Tuesday, May 31, 2011

First Approximations

There are about 30 scholars in the CBS Writers' Colony. They have all (with one exception) picked a single text to make progress on throughout the month of June. After between 20 and 80 hours of work, they expect to submit the paper for review sometime in early July (the precise dates vary). Some will be submitting to a journal, some to a conference, some will be handing it off to a co-author, others will be presenting it as a working paper at a seminar. Some will just give to their supervisor to read.

I have explained to them that they are all working on a text that consists of around 40 paragraphs. So, we've got 30 people spending 20 to 80 hours spread over about 30 days, all trying to make, and support, around 40 claims. As their coach and editor, I've got my work cut out for me, then.

So does each of the authors. Suppose you've set aside 40 hours, 2 hours at a time, on 20 separate occasions. What are you going to do in those hours? First, you should write whatever paragraphs you're missing. Start with the introduction and conclusion. That's going to be a about five paragraphs. Great, now how long is your theory section going to be? About 5 paragraphs, say. It'll take you at least half an hour to write each of them. So find out what's missing and write it. Do the same with your methods section. And your results. And so forth.

Make a plan so that the first 20 hours of work get whole paper roughed out. (Starting from scratch it is possible to write 40 paragraphs in 20 hours. But most of the authors in the Colony are not starting from scratch. They've already got a working draft.) And make a plan for how you're going to spend the remaining 20. What parts, do you think, will require the most work? You can revise the plan later, but at least have some sense of how you're going to get finished.

Remember you'll need time at the very end to copy-edit, check references, and make sure the document is prepared properly for wherever you're submitting. Make a plan for that too.

If you can't fit everything you need to do into the plan. Rethink your goals. Or find more time. Don't try to accomplish an on-the-face-of it unrealistic goal.

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