Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Writing A Lot

After having Paul Silvia's book How To Write A Lot recommended by nearly every person I follow and respect in the blogosphere, I finally read it a few weeks ago. It reaffirmed many of the things I already knew, many of the Stupid Motivational Tricks I've learned from Jonathan, and many strategies I've picked up from both Thomas and Tanya. I think for most writers, especially graduate students like myself, we know what it is we need to do...we just need to do it!

I'm always amazed at what I can accomplish if I'll just park myself in my chair and not get up or check email when I feel that impulse. Of course, there are limits. Like most of the productive scholars I consider as models, I'm not an advocate of going on writing binges.

In addition to including tips geared specifically toward grad students and dissertation writers, what I found most valuable about Silvia's book was that after poking holes in the "specious barriers" that we most commonly embrace as poor excuses for not writing, he provides a chapter on motivation. He repeatedly drives home the one thing that is common in the advice of all the writers I mention above, and that's the necessity of developing a schedule and sticking to it. But once you've got a schedule, how do you motivate yourself to be productive during your scheduled writing times?

The answer that has had the biggest and most immediate impact on my own writing process is to keep track, literally, of your daily progress. I've now developed a spreadsheet where I enter my daily word count. Some days I may produce as little as 200 words, while other days I have produced more than 1000 words! The midpoint between these two is probably pretty close to my average. But the point is that keeping track has given me a better idea of what I can do, and has truly kept me motivated.

Just the other day I was having a really tough writing day, so after allowing myself to be distracted by email and cleaning out my cubicle, I finally got myself back in the chair, set the laptop aside and wrote by hand in the notebook I use for notes. Before I knew it I had made a concrete observation about the text I'm focusing on for this portion of the chapter, and I was transitioning back to the laptop to begin writing my close reading of that passage. Without the motivation of having to enter my daily word count into my spreadsheet, I may honestly have never gotten anything onto the Word doc.


  1. I have a spreadsheet where I enter the number of steps I have walked each day (for health reasons) but I never thought I could have similar spreadsheet for the number of words I have written. Thanks for the great suggestion!

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