Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I love this book about academic writing

My "best book lately" award goes to the mercifully short and delightfully witty How to Write a Lot by Dr. Paul J. Silvia. This is not The Artist's Way. It is not therapy. It is not sensitive. It is a smart and usable guide for producing voluminous reams of scholarly writing without resorting to blather and jargon. Dr. Silvia has more sense than a dozen other would-be how-to-write authors, and he's funny, too. Here's a quote:

Always write during your scheduled time, but don't be dogmatic about writing only within this time. It's great if you keep writing after the period is over or if you do some writing on a nonwriting day -- I call this windfall writing. Once you harness the terrible power of habit, it'll be easier for you to sit down and write. Beware, however, of the temptation to usurp your writing schedule with windfall writing. It doesn't matter how much you wrote over spring break -- you committed to your scheduled time, and you're going to stick to it. If you find yourself saying absurdities like "I wrote a lot over the weekend, so I'll skip my scheduled period on Monday," this book can help: Close it, hold it between the thumb and index finger of your nondominant hand, and wave it menacingly in front of your face.

I'm laughing sooo hard at this, but perhaps to wring the true humor from this graf you have to be a veteran of a zillion how-to-write books that advise writing with the nondominant hand, writing with a blindfold, etc. Those things can help (I'm not a complete scoffer), but Dr. Silvia can help more.

NB: He writes for psychologists, with the attendant emphasis on journal publishing. This isn't so much about books, although he has smart things to say about them. You'll need to adapt his advice to suit your own situation unless you're in the sciences, but this is still an amazing book. Buy it, read it, tell your academic friends.

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