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Book Recommendation: How to Write a Lot, by Paul Silvia (2nd Ed., 2019)

Lawyers read more than ordinary people, and writing is the inverse of reading, so all of that reading ought to make great writers of us. Nevertheless, for many lawyers of my acquaintance, any sort of writing outside of the ordinary business of law can be a source of misery and self-torture. I have a suggestion for you—a book that inspired me to reject my self-created barriers to becoming a more serious and dedicated writer. The book is the second edition of How to Write a Lot, by Paul Silvia. PhD.

Dr. Silvia is a professor of social psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, so he writes this book both as an expert and a fellow sufferer. He is a person who has had to write a great deal in order to further his academic career, and because of his field he is also someone interested in studying what holds us back when we want very much to be able to write about our knowledge. He has convinced me that many of my writing failures are only mental barriers which combine in my head to convince me that writing is impossible and ought only to be attempted when immovable deadlines loom.

If nothing else will convince you, this might: the book in its paperback form has a mere 133 pages of text with wide margins and rather small pages. You can read this book quickly. If you are really crunched for time, I suggest you read only Chapter 2, pages 11-27, where the author breaks down the most common barriers to productive writing and explains that many of those barriers are mere excuses to avoid writing.

Along the way, Dr. Silvia uses pithy phrases and good doses of humor to show the reader that he understands the pain of writing attempts. He sympathizes wryly that, “[w]riting is a grim business, much like repairing a sewer or running a mortuary. Although I’ve never dressed a corpse, I’m sure that it’s easier to embalm the dead than to write an article about it.” (pg. 11) He also points out that many of us have not been taught to write in the ways required by our professional lives. He jokes that no teacher ever praised a kindergartener’s footnotes, prompting me to realize that the majority of my writing instruction was focused on creative or descriptive writing. Very little was intended to be informative and interesting or persuasive and compelling.

Though the book is largely about writing practices and methods for perseverance, there is a chapter on writing style, including a wonderful section on the em-dash and en-dash: two pieces of punctuation that I still struggle to use perfectly but which seem to be a sort of crowning punctuation for the pinnacle of good writing.

Dr. Silvia would tell you to stop seeking out new pens, chairs, keyboards, and books and just make time to write. I think you should set aside a bit of your writing time for this short book. If it inspires you as it has inspired me, it may save you a good deal of time in your future writing endeavors.

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