Friday, October 01, 2010

The 30-minute paragraph

These past couple of weeks I've been showing myself how much I can get done in 10 minutes. One morning I wrote 236 words in 9 sentences. Thinking strictly in terms of quantity, that's more than enough for a paragraph. Another morning I wrote 217 words, organized roughly in two paragraphs, though both of them could use some work, and some elaboration, of course. Another ten minutes would probably have accomplished a lot. Ten more again would have given me time to read the prose through a few times, fixing errors and improving flow, even read it out loud.

Three times a week I spend a single hour composing a whole blog post. Again, thinking strictly in terms of quantity, some of them are quite substantial. So between the ten-minute writing experience and the one-hour writing experience, I'm quite certain that my suggestion on Wednesday that a working academic writer should be able to compose a standard six-sentence paragraph in support of a claim in about 30 minutes seems realistic. Also, I think if a writer did actually spend a well-defined 30 minutes on a well-defined claim, and then moved on to the next claim in the next 30-minutes, a certain kind of care and attention would be fostered. It would show in the style of the writing.

A standard journal article contains about 40 paragraph-sized claims. These, then, can be expressed in roughly 20 hours of work. One of these weeks, I'm going to work from 8 to 12 on a 40-claim paper, for five days, one paragraph each half-hour (with a three minute break or so, so only about 27 minutes of work). Just to see how it feels to structure my attention. The result will no doubt only be a draft (a re-draft, since there will have been a lot of drafting in advance just to clarify the forty key-sentences). But I think it might accomplish a great deal in terms of clarity.

(I started writing this post, after moping a bit over my coffee (and even writing a comment on Jonathan's blog), at about 6:15. It's now 6:40. [Update at 6:45: After posting it, I read it through, found an omission and corrected it. 30 minutes well spent.])


Jonathan said...

Let us know how that works out. Think of a 10 chapter book, in 200 hours, or in other words, 5 working weeks of 40 hours each.

Since 10 hour weeks are more reasonable for writing, then we get to 20 weeks. A book takes approximately 20 weeks of writing given perfect linearity and good concentration. Even if you double that, you still have time to write a book in two 16 week semesters plus the summer before and after.

That's not counting research time, of course.

Thomas said...

I've set aside 8 hours a week to get a book started after the fall break. x 8 weeks until Christmas (64 hours). That will hopefully be enough to get about 120 claims down on paper that will span the whole book. After Christmas (and, hopefully, a book contract) I'll then try to work another 60 hours, 30 minutes at a time on each claim (i.e., each paragraph of the book). 120 paragraphs is a pretty short book. (It's only 3 times the length of an journal article. But it'll be a good start, and, if the plan holds, in place by Easter.

I haven't decided how much of a book this ultimately has to be. 25% or 50% or 100% bigger. But I want to get that short version done. Then I'll have the spring and summer to finish it. If it's into the publisher by September, that'll have taken me 9 months.

Of course, the research is essentially ALL done already.