Paul J. Silvia: On Writing

This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors. For this interview, Linda McCarter, Senior Acquisitions Editor at APA Books, spoke with Paul Silvia, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  He is the author of many journal articles and books, including Write It Up: Practical Strategies for Writing and Publishing Journal Articles (2015); Public Speaking for Psychologists: A Lighthearted Guide to Research Presentations, Job Talks, and Other Opportunities to Embarrass Yourself (2010, with David B. Feldman); and the bestseller How to Write A Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (2007).  In November, we published his most recent book, What Psychology Majors Could (and Should) Be Doing, Second Edition: A Guide to Research Experience, Professional Skills, and Your Options After College, with Peter F. DeLaney and Stuart Marcovitch.   

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

 

paul silvia

Paul J. Silvia, PhD, is a social-personality psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  He has served as the director of the department’s honors program, and he teaches undergraduate courses on creativity, personality, academic writing, and professional skills.  

LM: You’ve been writing about writing for a long time. Has your own writing process changed over time? If so, how?

PS: My “process” is basically obdurate stubbornness: write according to a schedule, typically a bit every weekday morning. If we write a little every week, things will work out. People spend so much less time writing than they think they do.

The scheduled times, though, have changed. Having kids shifted my writing to much earlier in the morning than before, but I still write every weekday. I probably spend less time writing than I did in 2007 (around 10-12 hours a week instead of 20), but I use my time better and choose my writing commitments more carefully.

LM: What writers, academic or otherwise, have influenced you?

PS: My own sense of style owes much to William Zinsser and Sheridan Baker. Baker’s book The Practical Stylist had an enormous effect on my writing. My writing seems warmed-over if you read his book.

Anyone looking to write a book ought to read Scott Norton’s Developmental Editing, which mixes practical advice and quirky hilarity in a way I admire.

Beyond the books about writing, I owe a lot to two psychology professors I worked with as an undergraduate at the University of Southern California: Denis Mitchell and Shelley Duval. Denis Mitchell was the first person to explain to me that writing is the crux of all scholarship. He used to say “Write the book!” meaning that the people who are known for an idea are the ones who wrote review articles and books about it, not necessarily the ones who had the best ideas and did the best studies. It’s hard to unpack all that I learned from Shelley. He invited me to co-author a book with him even though I was still in grad school.

In hindsight, I can see how lucky I was to get such good mentorship as an undergrad, so undergraduate professional development is one of my passions.

LM: What are you reading currently? 

PS: In 2016 I combined two self-betterment goals: (1) waste less time reading online and spend more time with actual books, and (2) read the books I own before buying new ones. I’m going to roll this goal over in 2017 because I’ve been tearing through my shelves.

I tend to impulsively grab non-fiction books that seem interesting, so the topics are eccentric.

I just finished reading The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art, by Anjan Chatterjee. It’s an elegant and provocative book. Before that, I read Felix Martin’s Money: An Unauthorized Biography, a quirky history of the development of money over the centuries, and Alexis McCrossen’s Marking Modern Times: A History of Clocks, Watches, and Other Timekeepers in American Life, a fascinating look at the concepts of time and modernity in American history.

Next up is probably Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy. (I’m trying to read the entire Oxford History of the United States).

LM: In November, we released the second edition of What Psychology Majors Could (and Should) Be Doing: An Informal Guide to Research Experience and Professional Skills, which you wrote with Peter Delaney and Stuart Marcovich. What do you think has changed since the first edition came out in 2009?  What should psychology majors be doing differently today, and what does the new book do differently?

PS: The post-college landscape is so different for psychology majors now. We wrote the first edition at the tail end of the boom years, when psychology majors easily found jobs right after college. Because of the bright economy, students handled career uncertainty more easily.

These days, the competition for graduate school spots and jobs is much more intense. I think students are thinking about their post-college life with a colder, more pragmatic eye. They want to know that something will be lined up after graduation.

The new edition resembles an all-new book. It is 50% longer and 40% less zany (let’s just say that not all jokes age well). We have much more to say about the world of work, writing CVs and personal statements, and about the nuts and bolts of preparing for jobs and for grad school.

write it upLM: What prompted you to write Write It Up, and how does it differ from How to Write A Lot?

PS: How to Write A Lot focused on motivational problems in writing, and I think most of its audience is outside of psychology. Write It Up is a “street level” look at writing empirical articles for fields that follow the APA Style Intro-Method-Results-Discussion format.

Like anything else, article writing is easier when you have some tricks, tips, and strategies. I try to distill what I learned the hard way and what others graciously taught me. It starts with picking projects worth writing up and choosing journals, shifts to writing the sections of the article, and ends with dealing with journals.

how to write a lotOddly, a theme of Write It Up is that we should probably write less. I think people should “write for impact” instead of for “mere publication.” People will accomplish more if they focus on their best ideas and craft their papers to be as compelling as possible.

I had wanted to write a book about how to write good journal articles for a long time. But most of these strategies are tacit, and I couldn’t work out my ideas on paper. It took me much, much longer to plan and write Write It Up than most of my other books.

For what it’s worth, I’m proudest of the writing in Write It Up. It was hard to pull off.

 

LM: On your research page, I noticed that one of your interests is interest. What first got you interested in interest? And how do you study interest?

PS: A person who studies interest and curiosity ought to have an answer to that, but I don’t. I suspect that I got into this field because my curiosity is easily tickled, and I take on new hobbies more often than is prudent for a grown man.

Most of my research on interest is done in the context of aesthetics and the arts. It’s a small but valiant area with some incredible researchers. It’s easier to study interest in a context like art than in other areas, like academic ideas, essays, or people.

LM: On a personal note, I know you like to buy and restore old watches. Are you working on any now? What is it about restoring watches that you find appealing?

PS: I do catch-and-release watchmaking as a hobby: find them, fix them, and let them back into the stream for someone else to use and enjoy.

A recent patient belongs to a friend of mine. It’s a big Elgin pocket watch from 1890 (a 15J “G.M. Wheeler” Grade 75, for the fans out there). It was the watch his grandfather used while working in a sawmill, and the case has some scary nicks in it. After that, I have a big pile of Illinois pocket watches waiting in intensive care. I blog about the watches I work on in what might be the world’s least necessary blog: AdjustingVintageWatches.com.

The inner workings of watches are so complex and elegant that it is amazing that people made them so long ago. Watches have dozens of absurdly tiny parts, some measured in the hundredths of millimeters. Placing a .08 mm staff into a .085 mm hole requires a patience and inner calm that doesn’t come naturally to me.

LM: Are you writing anything now?  

PS: The academic life has grant-writing seasons and book-writing seasons. I think the long, bitter winter of grant-writing is nearly over, and the book ideas are coming out of their houses and starting to shovel the sidewalks.

I write down all my ideas for books and articles, and I have around 30 book ideas. Around 18 of them are inane and 2 are good, but I don’t know which 2 yet.

 

 

January Releases from APA Books!

adlerianAdlerian Psychotherapy 

Jon Carlson and Matt Englar-Carlson

Adlerian Psychotherapy provides an introduction and overview of the theory, history, research, and practice of this person-centered approach. In Adler’s theory, all behavior has social meaning, and the socio-cultural context of a person’s life is a driving influence on their mental health and life experiences. The task of counseling and psychotherapy is one of encouraging the client to develop social interest—a sense of belonging to and participating in the common good. The authors present a modern interpretation of Adlerian psychotherapy that is consistent with today’s short-term therapeutic approaches and can be used with individuals, couples, and families.

 

handbook comparative psych APA Handbook of Comparative Psychology

Vol. 1: Basic Concepts, Methods, Neural Substrate, and Behavior

Vol. 2: Perception, Learning, and Cognition

Editor-in-Chief Josep Call

Comparative psychology is the scientific study of animal cognition and behavior from an evolutionary perspective. This two-volume handbook presents the different aspects of comparative psychology—behavior, cognition, learning, and neurophysiology—in a balanced and exhaustive manner.

There are 80 chapters across the set, divided into nine parts. History and Methods constitute the first two parts of the handbook. Key events and basic questions (and controversies) that have shaped the field as well as the methods used to make those questions empirically tractable are presented here. The next three parts—Adaptation/Evolution, Genes/Hormones, and Neural Substrate—present the conceptual foundations for understanding the genesis of behavior and cognition, both from a phylogenetic and ontogenetic perspective. Finally, the next four parts (Behavior, Perception/Attention, Learning/Motivation, and Cognition/Emotion) are devoted to the core research in comparative psychology today.

 

generalized anxiety Emotion-Focused Therapy for Generalized Anxiety

Jeanne C. Watson and Leslie S. Greenberg

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), characterized by near-constant distress, is resistant to many treatments. However, master therapists Jeanne Watson and Leslie Greenberg argue that emotion-focused therapy (EFT) is uniquely capable of targeting the maladaptive emotional schemes that underlie GAD and promoting long-term change. In this detailed guide, they walk readers through the stages of EFT and describe techniques that therapists can use to build healing therapeutic relationships with their clients, address deep-rooted emotional pain, transform unhealthy coping mechanisms, and develop self-soothing strategies. Vivid case transcripts illustrate these methods being applied in actual practice.

 

teaching lgbtq Teaching LGBTQ Psychology

Queering Innovative Pedagogy and Practice

Theodore R. Burnes and Jeanne L. Stanley

The goal of all instructional environments is to be a safe place to engage in exploration and active learning. How instructors approach LGBTQ identities is critical for learning and performance in all students, whether or not the primary subject matter is sexual orientation and gender diversity. This book is a theoretical and practical guide for individuals who teach and train about LGBTQ psychology in diverse groups and settings.

Successful New Year’s Resolutions

by Jessica Jeffers

new-years-day-1892263_960_720Another holiday season has come and gone. The decorations are starting to come down, the gifts have been dispensed, and we are turning our attention towards a new year. For many people, that means it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions. Whether we want to lose weight, stop smoking, or start getting organized, January 1 is a popular time to start making changes in our lives and our behavior.

But now we’ve hit the mid-January slump. Unfortunately many people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on their goals before the month is even over. That doesn’t mean we’re doomed to fail, though. It just means we need to approach our resolutions with a game plan meant to encourage success. A 2002 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology reported that resolvers with a concrete plan were much more likely to have succeeded in sticking to their resolutions at the six-month mark (Norcross et al, 2002).

Abigail Levrini and Frances Prevatt outline one such plan in their book Succeeding with Adult ADHD (2012). Though meant specifically to help adults with ADHD, the basic principles can be generalized to many people looking to make their own behavioral changes.

 

  1.  Set long-term goals

Goals should be measurable, time sensitive, and process-based. What does that mean? You have to be specific when identifying what it is you want to achieve. Your goal should be something that you can empirically demonstrate you have accomplished. But that’s not all. To stay on track, it’s important to give yourself a timeline to define the actions that you will take to reach the goal. It’s not enough to just say that you want to lose weight. Tell yourself “I want to lose 15 pounds by June 1 by going to the gym three times a week and replacing sweet snacks with veggies.”

 

  1.   Create weekly objectives

New-Year_Resolutions_listYou’re not going to reach your goals overnight. Making changes in your life takes time and patience. Get there by identifying steps along the way, so that you practice new behaviors until they become habits. If you want to train for a half marathon, create a schedule in which you start out running just a mile or two and gradually add a little more distance week by week.

 

  1.   Add rewards and consequences to increase motivation

It feels good to cross objectives off your list. But feeling good isn’t always enough to keep some people working steadily towards their resolutions. The concept of rewards and consequences is a basic psychological principle that can help. As you make progress, remember to treat yourself! If your weekly objective was to spend an hour at the gym, kick off those running shoes and catch up on your favorite TV show when you’re done. But remember to hold yourself accountable if you slip-up. These consequences don’t need to be big—if you decide to skip your workout on Wednesday, the consequence can be as simple as also skipping that grande latte on Thursday morning.

 

  1.   Use metacognition to discover what works

Metacognition is defined as the “awareness of one’s own cognitive processes, often involving a conscious attempt to control them” (VandenBos, 2015). In this context, it means thinking about the way you approach your goals, acknowledging what works, and identifying how you can change what doesn’t work. Levrini and Prevatt suggest tracking your progress by keeping a journal. As you notice patterns emerging, you can adjust your weekly objectives, rewards, or consequences accordingly.

 

Committing to long-term change can be difficult, but applying these psychological principles and making a plan can go a long way towards helping you succeed with your New Year’s resolutions.

 

References

Levrini, A., & Prevatt, F. F. (2012). Succeeding With Adult ADHD: Daily Strategies to Help You Achieve Your Goals and Manage Your Life. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Norcross, J.C., Mrykalo, M.S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.