How to Write a Lot
Paul J. Silvia
Writing translates our messy, haphazard work into organized narratives that our audience can actually use. Yet, few of us give writing the priority it deserves; we suppress it with excuses, doubts, and busy calendars. Strategic writing habits overcome these obstacles, molding us into effective writers.
Writing deserves a prominent spot in our schedule. Literature is our primary output, for one—it transforms our chaotic research into a coherent story. Writing also helps us think. Through writing, we discover our own opinions, generate new ideas, and direct our work towards questions we care about.
Sadly, writing isn’t easy. One might even call it difficult, frustrating, antagonistic, a wrestling match between our jumbled thoughts and the English language. No wonder we avoid it. We banish it to the fringes of our schedules, compress it into seasonal binge sessions, devise weak justifications for pushing our writing battles to another day.
Luckily, writing is more skill than art and we can master it through regular practice. Schedule a recurring writing time and defend it. Outline your writing projects. Write and edit during different sessions. And let these writing rhythms turn your sporadic, cruel brawls with the English language into routine, civilized contests. Believe that you will complete projects before their deadlines. Anticipate that you will develop deep, well-formed expertise. Let consistent habits mold you into a productive, confident writer.
Researchers are writers. I fought that claim at first, because I’m an engineering researcher and my modeling, visualization, and data analysis work feels more important than my writing. This book changed my mind. Without regular writing, my thoughts jumble, my creativity suffers, and my publications ramble. Writing should be foundational to my work, and this book has provided me with helpful advice for prioritizing it:
Writing-oriented projects: I think of my work in terms of writing projects. As I craft these projects, they generate research questions that develop naturally into grant proposals, publications, and other output. This framework focuses my other activities. I attend presentations, read articles, and develop analysis ideas if they fit into one of my writing projects. Otherwise, I ignore them.
Daily writing time: Each morning, at the same time and place, I write, edit, or read material for my projects. I defend this time—no email, no meetings, no coding, just writing.
Weekly planning: On Friday afternoons, I strategize. I review my writing projects and their relative priority. I plan out next week’s daily writing tasks.
Tracking my productivity: I give myself a personal and professional writing task for each day. After completion, I get a check mark and a word count. That check mark gives my brain a small, reinforcing reward for completing the habit, and the word counts help me quantify my pace.
Feel free to comment on Twitter