Sunday, August 23, 2015

How to write a lot without signing on to the academic honour/shame rat race

In retrospect, it might have been more helpful for me to read Paul J. Silvia's How to Write a Lot before my sabbatical instead of just after it has ended, but I am excited about applying his recommendations to my regular teaching life now that a new school year is about to begin.

Silvia's basic idea is to schedule time for distraction-free writing each week (he recommends starting with 4 hours), maintain the schedule religiously, set goals, and track your progress. Writing time may include research. If you do this, Silvia promises, you will write a lot.

Rather than expanding on the method--I'm sure Silvia would rather you purchased your own copy--I quote from the salutory reminder in the book's conclusion:
"Writing isn't a race. Don't publish a paper just for the sake of having one more published paper. Don't count your publications. Be proud of the euthanized manuscripts--papers that could be published somewhere but shouldn't be published anywhere--lurking in your file cabinet. If you find yourself counting notches on your academic bedpost, spend a writing period thinking about your motives and goals" (131).

On a related note, Seumus MacDonald is right that the academic guild is susceptible to ancient Roman cultural norms:
It’s blindingly obvious that Academia runs as a microcosmic honour/shame society because the one thing that ranks just below actual scholarship in scholars’ concern is prestige or honour as accorded them by their peers. This is what drives almost all academic endeavours (beyond the actual desire to study): conference papers, journal and monograph publishing, etc.. Every act of publishing is an attempt to gain the symbolic capital of prestige among academic peers, via an act of heroism, which is the public display of scholarly prowess. 
Do read the rest of Seumus's excellent post here:


Jacob said...

This and Semaus' original post are both interesting and helpful. Does this book also delve into the topic of writing well? My english is not that bad, but I generally struggle with knowing what style and manner of writing is best for academic articles.

d. miller said...

Thanks for the comment, Jacob. Silvia's very short book does include chapters on style, etc. And it is geared more specifically toward academic writing than Zinsser's classic On Writing Well.