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Marcus Arvan

Hi Thi: thanks so much for this post - it really resonates with me. I wasn’t terribly productive as a grad student or in my first job for the very same reason! I was primarily working on writing the kinds of papers I thought I was “supposed” to write—papers making tiny little contributions to or critiques of things other people had written. I too found it boring and, quite frankly, depressing. That wasn’t why I went into philosophy: I went in philosophy because I loved big, bold exciting ideas. So after a year or two post-grad school, I did what you did: I started writing on stuff that excited me. And roughly the same thing happened to me that you say happened to you: I became far more productive and finally started to enjoy philosophy again.

Interestingly, I also use the same writing strategies that you do too. One of the biggest errors people make, I think (or, at least, I found it an error when I used to do it), is to get so swamped in reading the literature that you never get started and writing takes forever. Like you, whenever I have an idea that I think is interesting, I do a *very* quick lit search to see if it has been defended...and then I get right onto the drafting. I only do a lot of literature reading after I draft something--because, as you note, it's only really in drafting something that you figure out how well the argument works, how interesting it is, and so on. Why bog yourself down in learning everything about the literature before you figure out whether your argument has 'legs'? I draft maybe 4-5x as many papers as I publish--and the reasons are the ones you give: I figure out while drafting something that the argument doesn't quite work, or isn't as interesting as I thought it was, and so on. Even in these cases, though, drafting can be productive--as sometimes I will head back to drafts years later when the "solution" to the paper's problem occurs to me.

Anyway, I think your post is right on and would encourage people struggling with productivity and lack of enthusiasm to give your strategies a shot!

The other Eric S

Awesome. Trust your sense of fun! Eat dessert first!


When a topic in philosophy grabs me, I try to write down immediately what I (!) think about it--only then do I go to the literature. One learns through the discovery of errors in one's own thinking. Reading something in philosophy before you yourself have tried to canvass the matter is a waste of time.

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