Monday, February 03, 2014

The Prose Routine

Today is the first day of a regular, every-other-day blogging routine. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I will get up just before 6:00 AM, do my stretches, drink a glass of water, brew some coffee, and write for 27 minutes, always posting at 7:00 AM. I'm told I used to have readers that would start their own day by reading my post, getting them in the right frame of mind for writing. I hope I can once again provide that service. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I'm going to write other things for 27 minutes, things that won't be published immediately.

The important thing is to have a routine. The part of you that writes—the author that every scholar also has to be—must be given an opportunity to work on a regular basis. The discipline I recommend is simple, if stern. Every day, at the latest before you go to bed, you decide what and when you are going to write tomorrow. (It is a good idea to do this according to a plan that extends over a few weeks so that you only have to confirm it from day to day rather than come up with a novel task.) Be specific: what paragraphs are you going to write, in which twenty-seven minute sessions? Then go to bed knowing exactly what you are going to be writing tomorrow. The next day, do your best to write exactly that at exactly the time you decided. (Last night, for example, I went to bed knowing I would write a paragraph about the importance of routine from 6:30 to 6:57.) "Prose" just means ordinary writing and it's best done in an orderly, everyday way. That's why it's so important to produce it as part of routine, not in bursts of exceptional inspiration. Prose is essentially routine, we might say.

Okay, it's 6:45 now and I have to recognize that blogging is not as hard as writing scholarly prose. I have to rethink my ambitions. In truth, I went to bed knowing I would write that introductory paragraph as well, beginning slightly before 6:30 to make it possible. But I now see that I can probably plan for two full paragraphs between 6:30 and 7:00. That means I need to have exactly two things to say every other morning. (I think I can manage. I'm a pretty opinionated guy, especially when it comes to scholarly writing.) Also, to my great embarrassment, the above paragraph (which is the main thing I was supposed to write this morning) is 238 words long. A proper paragraph should come in at just under 200. Perhaps you can see why it's too long, how it's subtly trying to become another paragraph. It's just not orderly! But it's a start, and that's all we're after. This morning I wanted to say "The important thing is to have a routine" and that's exactly what I've been saying, or at least trying to say. I still have five minutes left, but you can't see that. I spent those five minutes editing what I had already written. It's all part of the routine.

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