For many years, my writing output was not as much as I wanted it to be, and I certainly never entertained the idea that I could ever write a novel.
Discovering Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft changed my whole outlook on writing. I was never supposed to focus on the end result, but look at a writing project as a process, with a firm daily writing schedule that would propel me faster toward my goals.
When I attempted my first novel in 2010, thinking about the momentous task would instill in me nothing but anxiety, but when I focused on getting 2,000 words a day on paper, a gentle calmness fell over me. I wrote every day, for six weeks, until I had a very rough, but completed, first draft.
A writing schedule is the most important tool a writer can have, and How to Write a Lot, a marvelous book by Paul J. Silvia, PhD, takes the concepts King wrote about in his memoir and expands on them even further, offering additional smart practices for budding writers and putting focus on the academic setting.
The first topic that Silvia discusses is the idea of specious barriers, which most, if not all, writers have had to overcome in their writing lives. I have heard all the excuses in the book from friends of mine. “I just didn’t feel inspired today,” a friend told me once. And I asked right back, “What if you never find the inspiration?”
Silvia says that routine in writing is better than inspiration, and I have found this to be the case in all my writing projects. Some days I feel more inspired than others, but the routine of writing will always get my creative juices flowing rather than merely waiting for ideas to come. “My apartment is too small and I can’t find a good place to do my writing,” another friend told me last summer. I suggested she write on her bed, or, better yet, go to the library or to a coffeehouse. A proper writing space is important, but it should never keep you from doing the work.
“I can never find time to write,” however, is the phrase I hear most uttered, and Silvia discusses this most popular barrier first. When I wrote my first novel, I was working a twelve-hour-a-day production job in Los Angeles. I would get to work by 7 A.M., leave around 7 P.M., arrive home, make dinner, and then go into my office and write 2,000 words of my novel.
Some nights the words came quickly and easily, and I would get the writing done within an hour. Other nights, I stayed up past midnight, trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of the scene I was composing. I have never been more tired in my life as I was that spring, but the process taught me that one can always put a block of time into his or her day to write. After all, it’s not about finding time, but allotting time.
Making a writing schedule and sticking to it is the first step, but what are some tools one can use to enhance motivation and writing productivity? Silvia’s second major chapter discusses motivational tools, including making goals, setting priorities, and monitoring progress. While I was already implementing in my daily life most of what Silvia recommends in Chapter 2, in this chapter he introduces some great tools that I have already seriously considered starting with my newest project.
Setting goals is obvious, but do enough writers go the extra distance to literally write down their goals day by day? I keep goals in my head, always keep in mind the end result I’m looking to obtain, but rarely do I sit down at my desk and spend a good chunk of time writing all my goals down. I am looking to start this practice so I use my time more efficiently than I have before.
Finally, Silvia discusses monitoring progress, which can be done with a simple Excel sheet. This motivational tool is one I had never considered before, but one I expect to implement this fall, especially considering all the different projects I will be working on. Taking a mere minute or two every day to update my writing stats — what I worked on for the day, how many words I reached, what I didn’t get to, what I want to be accomplished next — would be a fantastic tool to keep me on track.
I have been a part of a local writing group for years, where we share each other’s fiction and give feedback, but an agraphia group is one I might look to partake in as well. Silvia discusses in Chapter 4 the idea of the agraphia group, which isn’t so much a writer’s workshop, but a support group for people who want to write better and faster, and who don’t want to fall behind in their work.
He recommends that a group of writers meet once a week to discuss goals met for that day and goals set for the next meeting. As writers, so many of us can feel removed from each other as we work on our projects, and an agraphia group would be a marvelous way to bring us all closer together and motivate us to not just do more writing, but better writing. Writing is such a solitary activity that coming together with other writers, particularly other graduate students — Silvia recommends grad students hold a separate agraphia group from professors — would be a helpful way to ensure I never slack off on my projects, and keep forever focused on all that needs to be done.
While Paul Silvia’s How to Write a Lot is aimed more toward academic writers, and specifically psychologists, I was able to take every one of his tips and apply it to my own writing. It doesn’t matter if one writes essays for his teacher, or a grant proposal for funding, or a new novel for a prospective editor or literary agent; he or she will be able to flip through Silvia’s clear and honest book and immediately find ways to produce more writing.