Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Writing Schedule

I am reading Paul J. Silvia's How to Write a Lot (APA, 2007) and once again find myself in like-minded company. Like Anne Huff's Writing for Scholarly Publication, it is a shamelessly practical book. Its basic argument is that if you write on a schedule, rather than according to whim, you will be more productive and happier as an academic writer. My experience (both with myself and with the authors whose work I edit) suggests the same conclusion.

Writing projects (even whole writing careers) too often go off the rails when writers abandon their schedule and start waiting for inspiration. Or they never get started because they never consider the question of exactly when they will put all their great ideas into writing. You can't start talking about writing processes, editing practices, stylistic decisions, or even improving your grammar until you know that the author has time to try things. If you know that someone will ultimately write "what I feel like when I feel like it" (which too often means in the dead of the night before the deadline) then no amount of grammatical rules or stylistic tips will help them.

Silvia takes great pains to make academic writing seem like an ordinary, non-existential activity. "Academic writers," for example, "cannot get writer's block" (45). Writing a journal article, he says, is nothing like writing a poem or a novel. I think he is right about this in principle. But, like Huff, I know some writers who do perfectly well on different assumptions. Such writers are beyond the reach of writing teachers and editors, I'm afraid.

And all other writers should try to stick to a schedule. They should write at least as regularly as they teach classes, ideally as regularly as they (ideally) prepare for them. This is the only way to make sure that all the needed writing, reading and revising actually gets done. More on this later.

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