Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Personal and Cultural Conditions

A writing process can be hindered or fostered at many levels. Leaving aside natural factors, like weather, and technical ones, like plumbing (which might interfere with your writing separately or, as in a flash flood, in combination), we can consider personal and cultural factors. Importantly, these are things we can do something about, albeit not all of them as individuals.

Anyone can, at any time, resolve to write paragraphs on a regular schedule. Doing so will keep their prose in shape and this really means forming their minds to think in "academic" terms, namely, in terms of claims and their support. It is important not just to see this as an organization of the writing space. That is, it is not just the structure of a paper that is divided into paragraphs but the structure of the process. The task of writing is divided into the smaller tasks of writing particular paragraphs. Each of these can be given a particular amount of time to work on. I recommend 25-30 minutes per paragraph. Learning to work this way involves a personal transformation, but a very mild one. It is not a change in personality, but it will have affects on your sense of yourself as a scholar, certainly as a writer.

Now think about the change that a university department might undergo if the department head stopped asking "What have you published?" or "Why haven't you published anything?" and started asking "What paragraphs have you written this week?" and "Really? None? Why not?" What would happen if people respected and appreciated the simple craftsmanship that is expressed in the composition of paragraphs? What if it was normal behavior to withdraw for an hour or two to compose 2-4 paragraphs, to compose oneself, as it were, thirty minutes at a time? What if the questions "What do you mean?" and "How do you know?" were not considered cantankerous but ordinary expressions of curiosity--more precise ways of asking "What are you working on?" and answered simply and plainly by recounting two or three paragraphs, recently crafted.

I suppose it's somewhat utopian to propose it, but I think it is worth giving some thought to establishing (or finding) personal and cultural conditions that are suitable for the composition of paragraphs.

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