27 Minutes

If you know something, I always say, you can write a coherent prose paragraph (at least 6 sentences, at most 200 words) about it in 27 minutes. People then often ask me where I get that figure. Well, it's handy because if you add a three-minute break you get 30 minutes. This means you can write two paragraphs an hour, and it's very nice to know, not only that something is true, but that you are able to write that kind of truth down at a rate of two every hour. You need 40 of them, give or take, to write a journal article.

My point is simple: If you form your knowledge into paragraph-sized "truths", and if you train yourself to write those paragraphs in 27 minutes, then you can establish a practical working relationship between your scholarship and your authorship, your research and your writing. It is a way of knowing exactly what you're doing when you're writing, and writing exactly what you know when you're doing it.

If you discover that you need 36 minutes and a four-minute break, or 54 minutes and a six-minute break, I'm not going to tell you you're wrong. But I will encourage you to train and become stronger, faster, more efficient. If you discover that 18 minutes and a 2 minute break is all you need, I will applaud you. But I'll also encourage you to evaluate the quality of your prose when you work at that rate.

The key here, as in all things, is to appreciate your finitude. Organizing your writing process into 27-minute paragraphs is a good way of doing this.