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Thanks for this, Marcus. I employ something like (1)--I usually keep a "brainstorming" document open alongside my working papers, so that I can just write out the idea without worrying about how it's going to come across. Then, once I'm clear on that, I can worry about how to present it. (Separating these two elements helps me. It's good to see whether an idea is philosophically sound before worrying about how to present it rhetorically. That makes the process more fun, too, since you can just do philosophy at the first stage, rather than also referee-pleasing.)

Another thing that makes writing more fun for me is having a helpful colleague/friend to talk to about my new ideas. It's really fun if you're close personally with this person, since you don't feel the pressure of trying to impress someone you only know professionally.

recent grad

What about when you have a bunch of near-publishable papers, but you just can't bring yourself to finish them?


Recent grad:

I split that into two tasks: deciding what to fix and fixing. I do the first bit by printing out and actually marking up my paper. I can usually talk myself into doing at least that much no matter my state of mind. And then, once I have the marked-up draft, actually making the changes is normally something else I can convince myself to do -- though often on the next day.

Also I edit drastically better when looking at a physical copy than on a screen. But that could be just me.

Marcus Arvan

Recent grad: can I ask you more detail on the issue you're having?

Is it that you're a perfectionist who never feels like a given paper is "finished"?

Or, is it that you like drafting papers but find revising/polishing to be such a pain that you just can't motivate yourself to put the work in?

Or, is it that you find yourself getting "stuck" with the papers, running into a big problem with the argument(s) that stand in the way of the paper being publishable?

In order to say a bit about what I do, I'd need to know which of these (if any) is the issue you're having.

recent grad


That's good advice. I've done that in the past, but I often forget about it. I find it easier to stay focused and read the paper all the way through in one sitting if it's printed out. And if I haven't touched it in months (or longer), that's required to remind myself what on earth I said.


I'm not always sure, but sometimes I have too many irons in the fire and then the semester starts. So, by the time I return to the papers, I don't have a sense of the dialectic or the literature. So the excitement of getting something right isn't there.

Secondarily, I think I get bored when it comes to framing things just right for referees, especially if I'm not 100% sold on the value of the paper. It's easier to just ignore it all.


Recent grad: work on one paper at a time and then move on to the next. And don't worry so much about being up to date on every piece of literature,; given the amount of work out there, I think that is an unreasonable demand and makes boring work. But most importantly, you just have to decide you are going to change and submit papers. No amount of advice will help until you make that decision yourself.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: I do exactly the opposite. Instead of getting stuck/hung-up on one paper, I constantly bounce back and forth between different papers. The moment I have trouble with one, I try working on a different one--at any given point in time, prioritizing whichever one I seem to be having the easiest time with. I find this is much more efficient and much less frustrating than banging my head against the wall trying to get just one paper right. In fact, the strategy you're suggesting is the one I used early in my career when I had the most trouble publishing!


Well I guess that shows we all have different strategies, and different things work for different people. I said that because recent grad said he was never finishing or submitting anything. I think I would be like that if I worked on all my ideas at once. I have a pretty good publication record right out of grad school, and the one paper thing at a time works for me. So recent grad and anyone else should experiment and find what works for them, obviously.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: Definitely! That's why I think it's so good to hear how different people do things. What works for one person may not work at all for another. I only figured out what works for me through a lot of experimentation--but it took me a really long time to even begin experimenting, as its always tempting to just continue doing whatever one's always done in the past. Hopefully is sharing our very different strategies will be helpful to recent grad, suggesting alternative possibilities for grappling with the issue s/he's facing!


Yes, experimenting is key! I am still experimenting for sure, because although I do fairly well with publishing, I don't really have much fun doing it, so I would like that to change.

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