Everyone works differently -- that we all know. Still, I'd like to share something I think I've learned about research productivity the past four years since I got out of grad school. I guess my hope is that if there's anyone out there who's struggling to produce and/or enjoy research, maybe my story will be helpful.
I used to stress a lot over papers in grad school, and this carried over into my first couple of years out as a faculty member. I frankly didn't get that much written, both because I was either revising old pieces (trying to get them in shape to publish) or spending months trying to get a new piece or two started. I remember, my first year out as as a VAP at the University of British Columbia, I spent an entire semester trying to get a paper on forgiveness off the ground. I read a lot, sat in front of my computer a lot more, tried to write, got frustrated, rinse and repeat, day after day. I was working hard, but frustrating myself to no end. I'm sure there are more than a few of you who can relate.
I did the same for about my first year at the University of Tampa. After about a year of working, I got a draft of a short reply done, as well as (after several months of hard work) a draft of a full-length paper on human rights. I felt like I was beginning to find my feet as a researcher...and then something awful happened: the hard drive on my computer crashed. I...lost...everything. It was a really hard time. About 6-9 months of work down the drain (no, I didn't back anything up. Note to everyone: back up your work!!). Bizarrely, this is probably one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me. No, I'm not being facetious.
When I got a new hard drive, I sat down to attempt to rewrite the reply and human rights article from square-one. I decided I needed to get them out quickly, while they were still fresh in my head...so I spent about a week doing nothing but rewriting them. It was miserable having to do them all over again -- and of course I swore at the time that I would never get them as good as I had them before -- but I got them done.
And then something strange happened. Somehow, the experience of rewriting the papers quickly from scratch just got me simply writing everything quickly from scratch. Whenever I had an idea on something after that, I just put it down to paper...all of it, just letting it flow, never taking longer than a couple of days to a week or two to get an entire paper out. I just did this for a while, just enjoying getting ideas out, not even really worrying or caring about whether they might be publishable. I wrote a paper on vagueness, another on the problem of evil, another on the Categorical Imperative, another on the voting paradox, another on consciousness, another really crazy paper on free will -- just tons of stuff.
Now here's the thing. I'm sure that a lot of the papers I've written this way are complete garbage. Indeed, I've cast many of them to the scrapheap, never to return to them again. Others I've sent out only to hear really, really nasty things from reviewers about them. But here's the thing: for every 5 bad ideas I've had, there seems to be maybe one good idea. And here's the other thing: even though I probably only get 1 good idea for every 5 bad ideas, I've really enjoyed doing philosophy. And here's the other thing: I think it has made for good work. No, I haven't published in Phil Review or anything, but I, anyway, am proud of much of the work that I've done.
So maybe that's how to do it. Maybe the way to be a productive researcher, publish stuff, and above all enjoy philosophy is to just trust yourself, throw everything at the wall, get stuff out on paper as it comes to you, and see what sticks. Or maybe not, I don't know. We're all different -- and again, in full disclosure, I haven't exactly been a publishing superstar. Still, all I know is that it's a whole lot of fun to stop worrying about publishing and just follow ideas where they lead, however crazy they might seem...and that it's a lot easier to be productive, and enjoy life, when philosophy is fun. If you're struggling and/or not enjoying research, maybe it's worth a try.