Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Paragraph Time

If you know something, I always say, you should be able to compose a prose paragraph about it in 27 minutes. A paragraph consists of about six sentences and no more than 200 words. So you should be able to write 3-400 words an hour about something you know, taking a three-minute break between each paragraph. Try it, and you will see that it's quite a lot of time.

Fans of The Matrix will remember "bullet time", the hyper-slow motion camera effect that allowed us to see objects and situations from all sides as action sequences unfolded. It was intended to simulate the way the characters were able to stay ahead of "reality" when dealing with it. They would slow the world down in their minds and therefore be able to take actions in an almost leisurely way that would otherwise require split-second reflexes.

I like to think that scholars can become adept at dealing with their textual environment in the same way. The idea is simply to establish a "long moment" (27 minutes) in which your only problem is to compose a single paragraph. You should know in advance (before you go to bed the night before) what the paragraph will say, i.e., what the "key sentence" is. Then, when you begin writing, everything slows down and you can manipulate the words you need in a calm and collected manner. If you learn to use 27 minutes effectively to compose a paragraph you will never regret having this skill.

"To write," said Virginia Woolf, "a woman needs money and a room of her own." A room is a region of space and time is money, as everyone knows. So all you have to do is become a Master of Time of Space. Just take it 27 minutes and one paragraph at a time.

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