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Paul Silvia’s “How to Write a Lot”, you can buy the book on Amazon here:

Learning points from Paul Silvia’s “How to write a lot”

I learned about Paul Silvia’s book from Raul Pacheco Vega’s tweet.

Schedule to write. Then, during the schedule, write. Turn off distractions. Do not meet anyone, or do not allow yourself to be distracted.

  • Start with allotting time to write, don’t say “I need to find time to write”, that does not help.
  • Set up a fixed time everyday and keep writing on those hours. Don’t worry if you go a little over the hour. Silvia says these things build up.
  • Do not binge write. Binge writing is wasteful and unproductive, don’t do it.
  • Be sacred about your writing schedule and the writing hour. Say no to distractions, keep out intruders at your writing hours (for me these are writing and data analysis hours: I analyse first, then write about the results, then write everything else)
  • Make a schedule and stick to it — that is the only way you can write a lot.
  • We often say “I need to read before I write”; I know I do it a lot. Scheduling is the alternative:
  • Schedule writing time and within these writing time, you can set aside time to read or run data analysis. It is about setting up a project time towards a goal.
  • Don’t worry about your tools: just write using paper pencil and whatever floats your boat (any computer or tablet, whatever you find comfortable and useful to write will work). Many people tend to procrastinate waiting for a tool to write.

OK, so you have scheduled, now you are not sure what to write, what will you do?

  • Start with setting writing goals
  • For that, you must realise that goal setting is part of writing, not something associated with writing or a ritual or something that is not part of writing.
  • Your writing is a project. List your project goals (for example, I am going to write a book and write 1000 words every day, for me now there are a couple of book chapters to write). You can start with any project or any number of projects.
  • Use a whiteboard to write the goals and keep close to your writing place if you have one.
  • Set a concrete goal for each day of writing. The goal cannot be vague — you are not allowed to say something like, “I am going to write a book chapter” — that is too vague. Say something like I am going to write 2000 words and complete the chapter.
  • Be like Anthony Trollope: write 250 words in 15 minutes

Prioritise projects with due dates (proofing, grant writing, etc)

  • Review manuscripts and grant proposals
  • Monitor your writing progress
  • Keep track whether you sat down and wrote. It’s the same thing with meditation or exercise or anything that is useful.
  • Start a spreadsheet with the following entries:
  • Year
  • Date
  • Month
  • Day (day of the week)
  • How many words written
  • Goal met (binary: yes/no)
  • Project
  • Comments
Here is an airtable version of the accountability spreadsheet. You can get one for yourself at airtable
  • Track yourself, don’t worry about technology.
  • Using a spreadsheet helps you to analyse
  • Reward yourself when you meet a project goal. But the reward needs to be a reward, you cannot reward yourself by skipping a day!

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in: https://refind.com/arinbasu

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