Friday, February 28, 2014

Talking, Speaking, Writing

I talk a lot about writing. I meet regularly with authors, both individually and in groups, to talk about how their writing is going. These are people who are explicitly trying to follow my advice, so I'm getting constant feedback from them about what works and what doesn't work. Only half ironically, I usually joke that if it's not working for you it's probably because you've misunderstood me. That's actually often the case; much of my work consists in clarifying my instructions for the particular circumstances that are being faced by a particular author. Or, perhaps more precisely, my work consists in insisting that the solution even to a very specific, very complicated problem faced by a writer lies, in the first instance, in applying my very general, very simple advice. I have to teach, yes, but also persuade. Don't believe what I say, I tell my authors, do what I tell you.

I also speak often on writing. I sell a six-hour seminar to research institutions about how to organize writing processes, during which I do most of the talking. And I'm often asked to lecture to university students at all levels about the importance of writing and the nature of scholarship. My speaking engagements are occasions to outline my philosophy of writing, and even my philosophy of science, and pass along my many years of experience as a writer and writing coach in the form of a by now very comprehensive system of content and time management. I tell stories and draw pictures, I instruct and, I hope, inspire. I even have a few gags. And I answer an increasingly familiar series of questions from the participants and students. While many of my "bits" are old hat to me now, there's always an opportunity to improvise a little, to try something new. All in all, I like public speaking.

Now, I do most of this speaking and talking as a coach, not a scholar. It's one of the reasons I find it relatively easy to write about writing, and not so easy to write about organizations (the closest thing I have to discipline is organization studies). My ideas about writing are part of a conversation (and sometimes monologue) that I'm very much a participant in. I hear myself explain them often and I am regularly challenged to clarify and defend them. I know what objections there are, and I know why those objections are misplaced. I don't win every argument in these discussions, and I sometimes have to withdraw and rethink a particular position, but I never feel like I've been excluded from the discourse. That makes it easy to sit down on a morning like this and say what's on my mind. I know what I'm talking about and I have a good sense of who is listening.

Next week, I'm going to write about the problems that occur when you have been excluded (or have excluded yourself) from the discourse on the object you are trying to write about. You may feel you have something important to say, but you are not in comfortable contact with the people you want to say it to. I have as much experience with that kind of writerly privation as I do with public speaking.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Worst Way to Start a Speech

Like I said this morning, after posting a somewhat negative post I got cold feet and took it down. It was a good and informative post, however, so I've been trying to figure out a way to soften it and make it a bit less surly, let's say. I'm not sure this is the right solution, but I've decided simply to remove the direct reference to the person I'm criticizing. This way I can preserve the object lesson without making it look like a personal attack. I'm not sure the original post constituted such an attack, but it just didn't seem, well, very "nice". And I generally like to be nice.

What happened was that I found a presentation on YouTube by a public speaking consultant and teacher about how to begin a speech. His advice was perfectly good, and I had intended to link to him and translate it into advice for writers. But there was a serious problem with one of his examples. The second best way to begin, he said, is with a "factoid that shocks". Already his use of the word "factoid" is strange here because it's actually a pejorative term; it denotes "a questionable or spurious (unverified, false, or fabricated) statement presented as a fact, but without supporting evidence." I assume he meant that one good way to start a speech is with an interesting, arresting fact. Indeed, he goes on to emphasize that it's important that the fact be true, since your audience is easily able to fact-check using Google. On this background, then, it's unfortunate that he chose as an example the myth that "there are more people alive today than have ever died."

When we do Google this claim, the first hit I get is an article in the Daily Mail that thoroughly debunks it. Indeed, the speaker in the video belabors the point using language that is directly refuted by the article. He ironically suggests we probably won't check because he looks so trustworthy, and assures us that, though people sometimes come up to him after a talk to ask technical questions about how deaths are counted, "it's true, and it's not even close". The Daily Mail, however, tells us that "with an estimated seven billion people on earth, the living are nowhere near close to surpassing all of the dead – the Population Reference Bureau estimates that approximately 107 billion people have ever lived." (If you don't like the Mail, Scientific American informs us that "the living will never outnumber the dead".)

It's difficult to imagine someone getting a fact more badly wrong than this. But one must admire the bravado of it. And of going so far as to post the video on YouTube without fact-checking it first! Now, it is of course possible that he's doing this intentionally to make the very point I'm explicating here. But I wouldn't recommend that tactic even for an expert like him. His irony will be lost on most people; I, for one, am inclined to think he truly believes in the truth of his factoid and that he really does expect us to believe him too.

This kind of mistake, which makes it tricky for people like me who would otherwise have shared his advice directly, causes unnecessary static. His basic three-point suggestion, like I say, is perfectly sound. Try to start with either an engaging story, an arresting fact, or an interesting question. (I usually start my writing seminars with a story about Paul Krugman, for example.) I even agree with him that it's good to do it in that order, which is probably also for most people the order from hardest to easiest. But the difficult thing, in the end, is getting the story or the fact straight. Always remember Master Tarantino's parable of the anecdote of the drug deal. It only works if you get the details right. The worst way to start a speech or a paper is with a confident statement of purported fact that half your audience knows to be bunkum.

No Post This Morning

The post I wrote for today suffers from an excess of negativity, or at least that's how I feel ten minutes after posting. So I've taken it down. I'll write something later today to replace it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Error and Ignorance

The knowledge enterprise—Science, Inc., if you will—is often taken to produce something, i.e., knowledge. I think it is important to distinguish two kinds of learning, however, two kinds of coming-to-know. The first is probably the kind we most often think of when we think of science. Here, coming into the possession of knowledge means overcoming our ignorance; we come to know something that we were previously unknowing about. The idea of a scientific "discovery" points at this kind of knowledge production. But there is also another sense in which we gain knowledge, namely, by discarding false beliefs previously held. Here, learning is a matter of correcting our errors.

When Andrew Gelman talks about the "replication and criticism movement" he is drawing much-needed attention onto the part of science that corrects errors. Some scientists have in fact begun to work in the opposite direction, pushing back back against replication as a norm of scientific inquiry. Andrew and I think this demonstrates a measure of impatience. It is clearly done in the spirit of the ignorance-conquering conception of science, as if science should always be pushing its inquiry into the darkness of the unknown, coming back with new knowledge of how the world works. This eagerness to make entirely new discoveries forgets how much we are confused and confounded in our understanding of the world by the false light of mistaken notions. Some of these notions are age-old folk ideas, some are stubborn prejudices. But some are simply the often entirely honest mistakes of our scientific predecessors. It does them no dishonor to show that they were wrong.

I normally use a gardening metaphor to make this point. We can easily imagine people who want to focus on the "positive" side of the business: planting, watering, fertilizing the flowers. It would be absurd, however, to suggest that weeding fails to make a "contribution".

Friday, February 21, 2014

Henry Miller on Writing

I've written about Henry Miller's writing process before, recommending against it. It seems that Miller himself came to understand my critique of the strategy of complete surrender to the muse. The other day, tracing a quote in Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus back to the source, I came across this passage:

I was so in love with the idea of being a writer that I could scarcely write. The amount of physical energy I possessed was unbelievable. I wore myself out in preparation. It was impossible for me to sit down quietly and just turn on the flow; I was dancing inside. I wanted to describe the world I knew and be in it at the same time. It never occurred to me that with just two or three hours of steady work a day I could write the thickest book imaginable. It was my belief then that if a man sat down to write he should remain glued to his seat for eight or ten hours at a stretch. One ought to write and write until he dropped from exhaustion. That was how I imagined writers went about their task. (Henry Miller on Writing, p. 36, my emphasis)

He goes on to cite Blaise Cendrars as an example ("Two hours a day, before dawn, and the rest of the day to oneself,"), as well as Rémy de Gourmont, who applied the same strategy to his reading. It suggests the kind of order I wish on all scholars, at least for certain periods of time: three hours of disciplined writing in the morning, three hours of disciplined reading in the afternoon. Then, good food and good company and a few diversions in the evening. Repeat. But never, in any case, those exhausting days of trying to do everything.

"I had no order, no discipline, no set goal," Miller says. "I was completely at the mercy of my impulses, my whims, my desires." He says that this caused him to "overlook the vast reservoir of material I had accumulated during the years", wanting to write instead about "the immediate … something fresh." I know scholars who make the same mistake.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Easier Said Than Written

Everything is easier said than done. That is, for anything you can think of doing, it's much easier to say you are going to do it than to actually do it. It's easier to say you are going to get into shape than to actually go for that run. It's easier to say you are going to learn Bach's thirteenth invention than to actually play it. And it's easier to say you are going to write your article than to actually write it. Some people take the consequence of this to be that talk is cheap. Don't talk about it, they suggest, just do it. My suggestion is to do both, especially when you are stuck or—though it doesn't exist, remember—"blocked". If you are finding it hard to write, remember that there is a very easy thing you can do, namely, say you'll write tomorrow.

But be precise. (It's not ambition that counts in these matters, it's precision.) It is not significantly harder to say that you are going to write from 9:00 to 10:00 than to say that you are going to write "tomorrow" or "sometime this week". But it is much more precise. And notice that it is also both much easier to do and to leave undone. If you say only you will write tomorrow, then you are not doing that from the moment you get up until the moment you go to bed. Even if you write for an hour, it's unclear whether or not you're done doing what you said you'd do. But if you say you'll write during a specific hour you are only not doing it for that hour, and when it's over, you're no longer not doing it. It's over. If you do begin at 9:00 you know exactly when you will have successfully done what you said you'd do. That's the point of being precise.

It also goes to the content of your writing. And this is where saying, not doing, can be very useful in overcoming so-called writer's block, i.e., exposing its nonexistence. You may find it impossibly difficult to write, but you surely don't find it impossibly difficult to say that you are going to write. So pick something to write tomorrow. Pick something you know to be true, something you could talk intelligently about with someone else who knows it, something you can imagine writing a good-sized paragraph about. Resolve to write about it at a specific time tomorrow for 27 minutes. That was easy, right? Now, think nothing more of it until that time arrives. When it does, ask yourself, how hard is it really to write this paragraph for the next 27 minutes? It's harder, sure, than what you did yesterday, namely, say you'd do it. But surely it's not actually daunting now.

Planning is a version of "saying not doing". But it's not a cheap gesture. It's the easy part that makes the hard part doable.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Writer's Block

I am sometimes asked to help people with writer's block. I always warn them that we will be dealing with the problem in the same way that we would if they told me their house is haunted. The trick is recognizing that the affliction does not exist.

Writers who are "blocked" normally experience every waking hour as passing without getting any work done. So the first thing we have to decide is when their so-called block is relevant. If you are "blocked", don't say you didn't write yesterday or the day before; say you didn't write between, e.g., 9:00 and 11:00, when you had planned to. Now, if you've got two hours of planned writing time, you should have four things to say: four paragraphs to write in 27 minutes each with three-minute breaks. These four paragraphs should be chosen the day before. So, if you are prevented from writing by some sort of block, what you are now saying is that at 9:00 you cannot write a specific paragraph supporting the first of four specific claims. Your inability to write may now persist for exactly 27 minutes. You take a break and go on, experiencing your "block" as preventing you from writing a different paragraph for 27 minutes. And so on.

If you are truly blocked, then, you will sit down at the computer and not write four specific paragraphs, the central claim of each of which you already know. But at 11:00 you stop not writing and go on with your day. At the end of the day, choose what you will try to write about to tomorrow. This time, however, choose a smaller task to fail at. Choose two claims to write about tomorrow, and resolve to write between 9:00 and 10:00. If nothing comes of that, try one paragraph the following day. The important thing is to actually sit there at your desk, with the machine on (or the pen in your hand), specifically not writing a specific paragraph. If that doesn't work reduce the length of the session from 27 to 17 minutes. Finally, to twelve minutes. Notice, that on day 1 you now did not write four paragraphs, on day 2, two, on day 3, one, on day 4, one in 17 minutes, and on day 5, one in 12 minutes. That's nine paragraphs in all that you didn't write. If you really didn't write anything at all those five days, your problem isn't writer's block. It's clearly something else.

You may object that I'm shifting the problem to the choice of paragraph the day before. Why should it be easier to choose what to write about than to actually write it? The short answer is that everything is easier said than done. The long answer will have to wait until Wednesday.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Ironies of Coaching

It is important to keep in mind that a coach is not a judge. Your coach's main responsibility is to help you improve, not to tell you how good you are. Ironically, therefore, the amount of praise you get will often stand in an inverse relationship to the progress you are making, and to your own sense of accomplishment. If you are doing well, and feeling confident, your coach will point out your errors. If you are failing, and feeling despondent, your coach will encourage you by reminding you of everything you've learned, everything you're doing well.

This sometimes makes coaching a thankless task. I coach writers who ultimately succeed or fail in the confrontation with their editors and peers reviewers. I try give my authors activities that they can carry out repeatedly, day after day, to become more efficient, more effective, and happier writers. Knowing almost nothing about what is on a writer's mind, I can help them map out the forty paragraphs that they can write over twenty hours of work, 27-minutes at a time. I can then coach them through the process of writing those forty paragraphs. I tell them they are doing well if they are writing the right paragraph at the right time. And I gently chide them if they write when they haven't planned to, or don't write when they have. Though I try to stay away from making judgments about their ideas, I do sometimes find myself telling them that what they're doing "sounds interesting", and that the argument "seems sound". When they're finished they send the paper off to a journal.

If getting the author to write in a disciplined way has been like pulling teeth—if they write only when they feel like it, always ignoring their plan, and put down whatever comes into their head, rather than what they decided to write the day before—and then get glowing review reports and immediate acceptance, I come off looking like a jerk. If I've been focusing on the weaknesses of someone's paper and they then get it published, they may gloat and tell me how wrong I was. Conversely, if I've been encouraging someone to submit who then gets rejected, or even a "revise and resubmit", they might lose confidence in my judgment. When I coach in groups, some of the participants feel like I'm being too hard on them, and not hard enough on the others, or too hard on (i.e., too useful to) the others, and not hard enough on them. Here it's important to use what I tell others as one sees fit. It does not matter whether I recognize your needs or your efforts. Often your sense of what you need will do just fine.

(This reminds me of the weird problem of students allowing themselves to be "demotivated" by input even when they are perfectly conscious that this is what is happening.)

The whole point, of course, is that it is always the author's accomplishment or failure, not mine. I just have the honor of participating in the process. All I can do is try to suggest a week's worth of activity that has a good chance of making someone a better writer, and foster a constructive mood in which to carry those activities out. I can never know whether the author knows enough, or writes well enough, to get published in their discipline. I'm rarely a member of their disciplinary community, after all. Even if I were, my judgment would not be what matters.

There are of course coaches who stand on the sidelines and shout at their players and the referees. There are also coaches who think the game is rigged. But I'm not one of those. I can help you train. I can't help you play.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The (Orderly) Life of the Mind

Scholarship plays an important role in social life. It maintains the store of human knowledge, keeping it both relevant and up to date. It is the scholar's job not merely to seek new knowledge but also to know what is known. That is, every time the scholar becomes personally aware of a truth for the first time, she also has to determine who else already knows. Is this discovery something that needs to be communicated to her peers? Or is it merely something that can safely be passed on to students because it is well-established in the discipline? The scholar, that is, is always learning—sometimes just for her own sake, and sometimes on behalf of her entire discipline. In any case, she represents the entire culture (some would go further and say the entire human species). What a scholar knows is in principle what "we" know.

What I just said should not be very controversial. No one would seriously defend the idea that a scholar's sole responsibility is to herself, that she is obligated only to satisfy her own curiosity and live a happy, interesting life. But I wonder whether our scholarly institutions ("schools" broadly speaking) are really organized with it in mind. I think we do well to ask ourselves what a life in scholarship should look like—and what it should feel like—if scholars had the function of knowing things on everyone's behalf. What sorts of conditions would we ask them to work under? What sorts of classrooms would we give them? How would we imagine their conversations among themselves would go? What would we think they spend their days doing? What kind of order would they be subject to?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how much control would they have over that order? How much autonomy does scholarship require? How reasonable is to think that the order of the mind can be imposed on an individual scholar? How much depends on the order that scholars find among, and within, themselves? Are we giving them sufficient opportunities to find it?

Monday, February 10, 2014

The 8-Week Challenge

Eight weeks is not a very long time. And yet, if you take a moment to do the math, you discover that there are plenty of hours in eight weeks to get some writing done. The trick is to train yourself to be able to use 27 minutes to write a single, coherent prose paragraph. Next, resolve to write between one and six paragraphs every day, depending on your other commitments. That is, write for at least half an hour and at most three hours every day. Suppose, now, that you have a very busy eight weeks ahead of you and that you'll therefore only be able to do a "minimal" amount of writing. That's five, one-paragraph sessions a week for eight weeks, forty in all, requiring twenty hours of work. (As a point of reference, a standard journal article is forty paragraphs long.) The maximum writing load you should take on is six paragraphs a day over those forty days: 240 paragraphs in all. That means committing 120 hours over eight weeks.

The first time you do this, think of the investment as seeking only knowledge about your writing process. If you commit twenty hours in total, just conceive of it as an opportunity to write forty paragraphs under some rather rigorous conditions. (The content of each paragraph will be decided on in advance and it will be written at a specific time the next day.) That's forty lucid experiences of writing down a piece of your knowledge. You can add a weekly conversation with a colleague, a coach, or a group of colleagues facilitated by a coach. Make sure that this conversation, too, is given a limited amount of time (I hold 27- or 54-minute meetings) so that your investment over the eight weeks is fixed in advance (four or eight hours total). All you are trying to do, initially, is to observe your writing process. What do you do when when you write? How much can you accomplish in half an hour that is devoted specifically to the problem of writing down something you know?

The two paragraphs above consist of 350 words altogether and took twenty-five minutes to write. I began at 6:30 at it's now 6:55. The words are almost perfectly evenly distributed: 174 to 176. I knew in advance that the first paragraph would be about the math (the second sentence is the key sentence) and the second paragraph would be about how to conceive of the investment of time (the first sentence). I went to bed confident that I had those two paragraphs in me and that I could post them at 7:00 AM. I was right. I challenge you to learn this sort of thing about yourself. It's nice to know.

Friday, February 07, 2014


"This essay proposes to halt at the frontier of metaphysics or mysticism, and confine itself to such practical conclusions as can be applied by the responsible person..." (T.S. Eliot)

"Swedenborg, if you permit him to be called a philosopher, writes: I saw three angels, they had hats on their heads." (Ezra Pound)

I am grateful to Lee Sechrest for his comment to Wednesday's post, in which he tells us how B.F. Skinner and Charles Ferster wrote Verbal Reinforcement:

They had a small room at Harvard with two tables, two chairs, and two typewriters (imagine!) They had nothing on the tables but their notes for the day, no pictures, no books, etc. Skinner had the room painted in a sort of mauve color unlike any other room. Each of them had a small, funny little hat that he donned whenever he entered the room. They did nothing in the room but write. When (if) their minds began to wander, they left the room. Ferster said that they quickly got to the point at which they could leave in the middle of a sentence, not even think about it until coming back in the room, and then they could sit down and take right up where they left off.

We always have to read stories like this as fables, in this case an almost surrealist fable. It's important to understand that whatever "truth" it contains, and whatever advice it provides, is not literal. This may or may not be how Skinner and Ferster worked, and it may or may not have been necessary for them to work this way; the story only tells us something about the general importance of marking off the writing process from the other things we do.

My advice looks somewhat different in the details. The luxury of having a special room for writing, a room especially for writing, is not available to everyone. But it is important to be able to establish a distinct writing "space" for a few minutes at a time. You don't have to clear a room of books and pictures, you just have to turn your back on them for twenty-seven minutes. You have to enter a metaphorically "mauve" space, if you will, "unlike any other room". The idea of having "notes for the day" is a very good one. Bring only the notes you need to write the paragraph you have chosen to write in a given writing session; part of the decision about what to write should be to select the relevant basis for writing, i.e., find the notes you need. I disagree with Skinner and Ferster about breaking off the writing session when the mind wanders. Stick to it for the allotted time, I say. Then there are the hats.

Hats. I was reminded of Skinner's pigeons. Remember that Skinner and Ferster were the arch behaviorists, and had developed many of their theories on the basis of their ability to train pigeons to dance for their food in small, specially designed boxes. The pigeons could learn to press a sequence of buttons simply by being rewarded and punished ("reinforced") for right and wrong behavior. But one interesting finding of the studies was that pigeons sometimes developed "superstitious" behaviors. They happened to hop around the box in a particular way before being rewarded with food, and because that behavior was not part of the conditioning it was neither rewarded nor punished, just ignored by the researchers. Nonetheless the pigeon behaved as though it would only be fed if it carried out this little dance. When I think of Skinner and Ferster putting on those silly hats in their (somewhat silly) little writing box, I think of those pigeons.

Still, all writers are entitled to believe in a little a magic. It's perfectly okay to have rituals if they work for you, just as an athlete may put on lucky underwear before every game. Of course, the stranger and more complicated the ritual the more vulnerable your writing process becomes. Keep the list of necessary features of your writing space small, manageable and realistic. Don't demand a special mauve-colored room in which to write. Wear a hat if you must.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Prose Space

Here are two related rules that can help you define the "space" of your writing process. I should qualify them by saying they don't forbid anything absolutely. That is, you're free to "break" them outside of your formal writing process. The point is just that there should be regular occasions (preferably at least half an hour every day) when they are observed.

Don't write onto a blank page. You are of course filling in the "white" space of the page, but make sure that the boundaries around that space are well defined. This means you should know not just what text you are working on, and not just what section of that text, but exactly what paragraph you are writing at a particular time. You can easily mark off this paragraph by giving yourself a key sentence to write to. That is, decide in advance—i.e., before you go to bed the day before—what truth you are going to be expressing in prose. Your task will be to spend 27 (or 17 or 13) minutes writing at least six sentences and at most two-hundred words that support it. This morning, for example, I knew that the space of my writing problem was a blog post with two main paragraphs, one defined by the first sentence of this one, the other defined by the first sentence of the next. I knew I would have about thirteen minutes to write each one.

Don't write in an unstructured space. The author you are needs to trust that there will be no interruptions during the scheduled writing time, nothing that you have to "see to" immediately. For many people this means having what Virginia Woolf called "a room of one's own", but this is by no means necessary, and for some people just not possible. In any case, it's not the physical room, the walls and the door, that protect your writing process, it's the respect you are able to establish around your process. A door works not, in the main, because you can lock it, but because people know that when it is closed they have to knock before entering, and that they have accept it if you tell them you're busy. I write my morning blog post at the dining room table and sometimes my family is up and beginning their day all around me. But they know that from 6:30 to 7:00 I'm not to be disturbed. They respect my writing for half an hour. In that sense, my space is structured.

Don't expect your author (the part of you that writes) to work effectively on a blank page in an open space. Frame the problem of writing with a key sentence and a modicum of tranquility. It only takes a little bit of resolve to make the necessary decisions about your text and maintain the necessary relations to those around you. Your author will thank you. And reward you with a reliable supply of prose.

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.