Re: How To Write A Lot

Sounds great doesn’t it? Although How To Write A Lot is directed at academics, any writer will find the difficulties described by Paul J. Silvia all too familiar. The solution is simple. As he advocates firmly, convincingly, and wittily, the only way to write a lot is to set a schedule of writing times and stick to it. It doesn’t matter when or how often or even how many hours, so long as it’s regular.

Chapter One makes the case for writing on a regular schedule. Chapter Two demolishes the most common excuses and whining that keep us from writing and gives you strategies to overcome them. Chapter Three discusses setting goals, monitoring your progress, and rewarding yourself, giving you tools that apply toward any good habit you want to build. That’s all you need to read.

In later chapters, there’s an extremely superficial discussion of style, which boils down to “Read Strunk & White.” When it starts getting into the specifics of writing research papers, it’s still entertaining but useful mainly as a peek into the academic world.

These are three lessons that hit home for me:

  • “You must ruthlessly defend your writing time.”

Even from yourself. It’s self-defeating to say you can’t stick to a schedule. You do lots of things on a schedule: eat, sleep, watch your favorite TV shows. You can write on a schedule, too.

  • “Writing is more than typing words.”

Anything that contributes to the success of your writing counts. Don’t put off writing because you haven’t done your research yet. Reading, brainstorming, outlining, preparing a manuscript, checking galleys–according to Silvia, all should be done during your writing hours. I think creative writers need to take this with a bit of salt; the world of SF is rife with tales of writers spending years lost in the rabbit holes of world-building. If it’s keeping you from typing words, you need to ask yourself, Does this really serve finishing the story?

  • “Planning is part of writing, so people who write a lot also plan a lot.”

You should work out all the goals you need to finish a project. This probably works better for the academic writer, who is dealing with a well-defined, structured format. My quibble here is that writing out all the goals for a project can look overwhelming. For a procrastinator, it’s more helpful to write down what to start next.

But does it work, and haven’t we heard this before? For example, there’s a recent story about Ben Bova, where he says that you should just get up in the morning and write every day. In the past, I’ve only heard the “every day” part, and not paid attention to the “in the morning” part. (I am not a morning person.) Until now I only made a commitment to get some writing done by the time I go to sleep. Let’s just say some days I’m happier with that policy than others.

So I have set myself a scheduled time to write, but I’m still in the early stages of sticking to it. I know it takes me a while to establish a habit. I do notice that I feel a lot better when I write on time. We’ll see by the end of July whether I’m a believer.
When do you write?


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