How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia: TGSG Must-Read #1

Hello, friends! I hope your summer is off to a great start. My university hosted a summer writing retreat for grad students, post-docs, and faculty members which whipped my summer writing into pretty good shape. I’ve been feeling inspired by the content of the retreat and want to share my thoughts/tips/questions with you!

Before digging into that content, though, I wanted to share Book #1 of The Grad School Grind’s Must-Read List! Over time I’ll be sharing books that have been essential for my grad school process and I’ll call these posts “TGSG Must-Read”s.

I’m stoked to kick-off this category of posts with the book How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silva.

It sounds dramatic, but I really mean it – this book may have saved me from failing out of grad school.

I came into grad school with great writing ability but TERRIBLE writing habits. There are probably many graduate students out there who tackled this problem in their undergraduate or post-bac days, but that was not me.

I had no idea how to develop a writing routine, good writing habits, or what scientific writing really looked like. I knew from my college writing and psych classes that I could write well (course papers, journalistic pieces, standardized writing tests, posters, sections of a research manuscript). However, I had no idea until well into my first year that I had no idea how to get myself to produce a scientific manuscript. I’d read plenty of empirical articles, proofread peers’ submissions for journals, contributed as a co-author on sections of a manuscript, but I’d never seen a paper out from start to finish. Long story short, I knew I could write, I knew I needed to write, but I couldn’t bridge the gap between the writing skill and producing a manuscript.

I tried a lot of things. Different coffee shops, different kinds of music, different times of the day, different outfits (cozy v. professional), different types of planners, different goals – I was going NO WHERE.

I wish I could recall how I came across How to Write a Lot, but in all honesty it was probably a product of late-night high-anxiety google searching “how to write” that brought me to it.

I like a lot of things about the book including that:
1. It’s short
2. It’s funny
3. It’s easy to read
4. It calls you out on your bullshit excuses
5. It works for all of the four tendencies
6. IT WORKS

This book probably won’t solve ALL of your writing woes but it is a GREAT starting point. This book got me writing, tracking my writing, and seeing through all the BS I was telling myself about why I “couldn’t” write.

A preview of some myths this book helped me dispel:

Myth #1: I’ll write when I’m inspired/in the mood/feel like it. (as a Rebel Tendency this one was pretty central to my academic identity)
Myth #2: I’ll write a TON this weekend when I have nothing planned/over summer/winter/any holiday break.
Myth #3: I already know how to write well, I don’t need to keep a schedule or track my writing.

Enough talk from me, go read it already!

Already read it? Let me know your thoughts here or over on social media! Has this book helped you with your writing too?

Looking forward to brainstorming better writing habits the next few posts – happy summer grind y’all!

-J

P.S. I just saw that there is now a second edition of the book. I haven’t read this edition so all of the above links route to the first edition. I can’t imagine the second edition is any worse but let me know your thoughts if you read it!

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