August 22, 2007 7

Book Review: How to write a lot (Paul Silvia)

By in Book reviews, Evaluation, Writing

This is a short book that one can read on a flight (I did), but it packs a lot of good advice. Silvia is sick of ‘self-help-like’ books on writers block, etc., and it shows. He writes from the point of view of a seasoned author, and shows quite a lot of ‘being there, done that’ advice in both publishing papers and books. If you are planning a book, the last chapters are the best advice I could find on book planning; he even discusses how to negotiate with your publisher.


So what are the basic recommendations?

- Writing is hard, so there isn’t much of a point trying to find a method to ‘make writing easy’.

- Write on schedule, and in a very consistent manner. Try to create a habit.

- Track your productivity (He uses a SPSS file where he inputs number of words typed per day, and whether he achieved the goal for the day). Tracking is a favorite of mine: it’s surprising how worrying little you get done on a day that feels like you have worked a lot. Tracking will tell you this. It’ll help you planning better: how many words can you write a day, on average? Well, if you have stats, you can say.

- don’t let yourself fall into what he calls ‘specious barriers’. For example: “I’m waiting until I feel inspired” or “I need to do some more analysis first.”

- Use social pressure: create an agraphia group with friends/peers, and get together so you can feel ashamed if you didn’t write what you said you would.

The book clearly lives out to its ambitious title. It demystifies productivity (which is always a good thing), and it’ll probably make you laugh outloud… which is more than what I can say about most books that try to do that for you.

Of course, there are chapters that deal with style. Don’t skip those; they are probably the funniest.

This is probably the best book on the topic I have found. Highly recommended.

PS: Paul cites a whole lot of books that look really interesting.

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7 Responses to “Book Review: How to write a lot (Paul Silvia)”

  1. joseNo Gravatar says:

    I found the thread at Chronicle’s forums that discussed the book:,34316.msg477413.html#msg477413

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  4. RickNo Gravatar says:

    I loved this book. It’s just the right length and a thoroughly entertaining read. But one thing makes me wonder what kind of a job the author has. He says that he writes every weekday from 8 to 10 am, getting up just before the writing period. Assuming that he gets dressed and has breakfast and then makes his way to his workplace after that time, it sounds like he’s unavailable for classes, meetings, or just for students to drop by with questions for pretty much the whole morning. Maybe I’m insufficiently devoted to scholarship but I can’t imagine refusing to teach morning classes. And I don’t know anyone in my institution who’s managed to pull a trick like that.

    This doesn’t detract from the overall value of the book, but it strikes me as being a point worth mentioning.

  5. tashNo Gravatar says:

    reply to rick: silvia works at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is a professor. I think most of his classes are in fact in the afternoon. He also runs his own research laboratory where he studies interest, creativity and emotion.

  6. RickNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks for that, tash.

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