Thursday, August 14, 2008

Academic Push Ups

Jonathan Mayhew, ever the role model, is trying out the 100 push ups program, which is a bit of an internet fad these days, I'm told. I think I may try it myself. But in this post, while the olympics are still on, I want to transfer the idea of "training" into an academic context.

Last week, I offered what I hope is a compelling image of training in my post on Milo of Croton. I want to suggest a more concrete, and hopefully more realizable, model of academic exercise based on the 100 Push Ups program today.

I said you should try to write something you know down every day. Well, let me be a bit more specific. Call it the 100 Sentences Program (with apologies to Tony Tost). Start with an initial test: write down as many well-formed, grammatically correct, and true sentences as you can about your research object. Stop when you are either exhausted or have run out of ideas. Then plan out a six-week, three-days-a-week training program.

Roughly every other day, sit down and write an increasing amount of sentences. Start with significantly fewer than you wrote in your initial test (say about 60%), and work yourself up to 100. The idea is to get yourself into "shape", i.e., to make the task of writing 100 clear and true sentences within your area of specialization a natural act—i.e., something that is well within your capacity to carry out.

Don't worry about repeating yourself, but do use the occasion to try out new turns of phrase, and alternative styles, if you can.

Like all exercise, don't overdo it. And do "consult a doctor" if you start feeling suspicious pains, nausea, disorientation, etc. In fact, the 100 Push Ups Program recommends that you consult a doctor before you start your training. In academics, that means talking about the program with a dissertation supervisor, teacher, trusted colleague, or, of course, your resident writing consultant.

Let me know how it turns out.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

That reminds me of "The Complete Sentence Game," part of my "Games for Insomniacs" project.

The idea is similar, except that you write the sentences mentally, without actually writing them down. It teaches you to think in well-formed, complete sentences.