Thursday, 10 December 2015

Book Review: How to Write a Lot, by Paul J. Silvia

How to Write a Lot, by Paul J. Silvia, is an ironically short book - but that makes it a fairly approachable book to read.

Published as part of the APA LifeTools series, the book is a self-help-type tome written for graduate students and academics who are struggling to find the time to write journal articles and grant applications.

The book is aimed at academics, and specifically targets people looking to publish academic writing in Psychology - but the advice it offers is general enough to be applicable to all aspiring writers.

Silvia's central argument is that prolific writers never *find* the time to write.  Prolific writers make a point of *scheduling* time to write, and then stick to their schedules.  He maintains that having regularly scheduled writing time (and clear goals concerning how that time is to be used) is key to building writing as a productive habit, rather than a binge act.

Silvia goes on to outline a number of "Specious Barriers" that people use as excuses to avoid writing according to a schedule, such as writer's block or having a sub-optimal writing environment.  Prolific writers must make it a habit, and decide to write even when they could find excuses to avoid it.  Importantly, they must not allow themselves to be dictated to by "inspiration" (or lack thereof).

He also offers advice on how to stay motivated, how to monitor your progress and how to write with others.

The subject of the book is tackled throughout with a sense of humour, as the following extract illustrates:
I love writer's block.  I love it for the same reasons I love tree spirits and talking woodland creatures - they're charming and they don't exist.  When people tell me they have writer's block, I ask, "What on earth are you trying to write?"  Academic writers cannot get writer's block ... The subtlety of your analysis of variance will not move readers to tears, although the tediousness of it might. People will not photocopy your reference list and pass it out to friends whom they wish to inspire.  Novelists and poets are the landscape artists and portrait painters; academic writers are the people with big paint sprayers who repaint your basement.
Several chapters of the book are dedicated to specific advice for writing journal articles or books in Psychological Sciences, and these chapters do feel a bit like padding designed to flesh out a book that really makes its point within the first four chapters, but Silver's little guide is a good read for anyone (early career researcher or otherwise) who is struggling with "finding the time" to write.

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