Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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

Paul J. Silvia.  How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing.  Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2007.

I decided to read this book because I have been wanting to do more academic writing, academic writing that can get published and that I can put on a CV.  As I read books and articles, I wonder how their authors do what they do.  They site so many books and articles.  Have they read all of those?  If so, how did they find the time?

Paul J. Silvia mainly discusses academic writing in the field of psychology, but I think that many of his insights can be applied to aspiring writers in other fields of study.  (Mine pertains to the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.)  Come to think of it, some of his thoughts may even be applicable to people who want to write non-academic material, such as fiction or articles, for publication.

What Silvia returns to over and over again is the importance of having a set writing time during the week, and sticking with that.  He recommends that writers devote at least four hours a week to writing, and they can divide up that time any way they wish.  And “writing” does not just mean writing the words of the manuscript: it can also include research, setting writing goals, organizing footnotes, revising an article, and reading books about how to improve one’s writing.  Silvia tells his colleagues reading the book that their article will most likely be rejected, since most submitted articles in psychology are.  They may even read harsh peer reviews about their article.   (Submitted articles are generally given to reviewers to get their feedback about whether or not the article should be accepted for publication, and the authors of the submitted articles usually get to read those reviews.)  Still, rain or shine, success or failure, motivated or not, one should keep at that writing schedule, according to Silvia!

This, in my opinion, was the most motivational aspect of Silvia’s book.  The day after I finished it, I got up early and devoted an hour to one of my writing projects.  I did the same the morning after that.

What if one has writer’s block?  What if one wants to write, but does not know what to write about?  I think that Silvia assumes that most of his colleagues reading this book already have done a lot of research, but they are stalling at the writing part.  They have something to write about, but they are reluctant to sit down and write, due to the challenges of the writing process itself, and also their feeling that they lack the time to write.  Silvia also believes that sticking with the writing schedule itself can generate ideas.  I thought that Silvia could have gone into more detail about how one can find topics for one’s writing.

Silvia also discusses the importance of outlines, how being in a writing group can keep authors accountable to their goals, keys to effective prose, how to organize a psychological research paper, steps to take in resubmitting an article, and how to write a book.  Silvia also refers to other books about writing that his readers may find useful.

Excellent book!

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