How to Write a Lot

I have what Anne Lamott might call a teeny little addiction to how-to-write books. Yes, I am aware that many of them strongly resemble each other. But the one I’m reading now is different, and it’s fun! It’s How to Write a Lot, by Paul J. Silvia, Ph.D. The reason I don’t roll my eyes at the degree in the byline is that it’s published by the APA and written for academic writers in the social sciences.

I skipped a few sections, like the chapter on style and the overview of the different parts of an empirical article, but the main thrust of the book, i.e. how to write a lot, applies perfectly to me. What’s more, unlike hand-waving books that make similar points, this one backs up its claims with inline citations. So appealingly nerdy! The author even tracks his writing time in SPSS. My day job is with social-work researchers, but this book is the first thing that’s actually made me want to learn SPSS.

In case you don’t share my quirks and don’t read this book, the message is simple: make a writing schedule, then carry it out. That will pretty much solve your problems. There are tips on setting goals and priorities and staying motivated, but they won’t help you if you don’t make a schedule and stick to it.

How to Write a Lot is more bossy buddy than anything else, but sometimes that’s just what I need. I appreciate the cheerfully opinionated: “Instead of writing review articles, people who don’t outline should drive to the local animal shelter and adopt a dog, one that will love them despite their self-defeating and irrational habits.” (Awright, a puppy! Just kidding. I outline…sort of. Sometimes.)


  1. Stephen Llewellyn May 24, 2010

    What is SPSS? I want to learn more about outlining…

    • admin May 24, 2010

      SPSS is the statistics software used to analyze survey and experimental data. To put it mildly, it’s pretty high-powered for keeping track of writing time!

      I think a disservice is done to schoolkids when they’re taught only those formal outlines with Roman numerals. Maybe nowadays they get to learn mind-mapping and other techniques too. My outlines are usually just lists scribbled on an index card.

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