How-to-write books have never had much appeal for me. I am happier when I learn by doing–and by reading other kinds of books. A teacher of mine in grad school used to say that bad novels teach you more about writing than good ones do; the also-rans and failures are cautionary tales, examples of what to avoid in your own work.
All rules, even the quirky personal ones, have exceptions, right? At the suggestion of Carole Sargent, proprietor of Booklab, a k a Georgetown University’s Office of Scholarly and Literary Publications, I just read a book called How to Write a Lot, by Paul J. Silvia, an academic psychologist. (You should check out Carole very’s astute blog about publishing and writing, BTW.) Silvia’s target audience is other scholars in his field who want to be more productive as writers, and he tackles the subject with a refreshing lack of mysticism, soulfulness, or courting-the-Muse nonsense.
Silvia’s working theory–and I do mean working–is that productive writers do not “find” time to write, they allot it. Does that sound uncreative? Silvia does not want writers to sit around and hope that inspiration will strike; that leads to what he calls binge writing. Binge writers spent a lot of time feeling guilty when they’re not writing, which is most of the time. His advice: Set aside regular writing time every week, no matter what. Put it on your schedule. Stick to the schedule. “Prolific writers make a schedule and stick to it. It’s that simple.”
As a recovering binge writer–I call it brinksmanship, and it’s a model that journalism tends to encourage–I figure Silvia’s approach is worth a shot. So I’ve blocked out three weekly writing sessions. If I can allot more time, great. If not, I will still be getting something done. (Put that on your calendar, Muse.) Don’t wish me luck, just tell me to stick to my schedule.