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05/11/2020

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Michel

Write first, position later.

I can only chime everything Marcus said: that's my experience, too. Although I don't actually junk much; I just set it aside, and plan to re-work it later, when I have a clearer idea of how to do so.

At least, this is my experience for papers in debates that are somewhat or largely unfamiliar to me; for stuff I know quite well (usually because I've written on it before, or because I taught it), I don't really need to search around to see if anyone else has said the same thing. If I discover, in the course of writing and researching, that someone else has been in the vicinity, then I re-position as appropriate while I work on the paper (what I call 'editing', but which is a very involved re-writing and re-structuring process). You can also look to CFPs for ideas about what kinds of perspectives might look fresh and exciting and not-too-well-trodden.

Just start writing, even if it's not very good. After you've written a little for the day, you can stop and start reading. And that reading can inform your subsequent writing. That way, you allow your writing to inform your reading, too, especially in terms of what you should read next/new directions/etc. But thinking of the reading and writing phases as entirely separate is a recipe for getting lost in the reading and never writing.

Prof L

Maybe this is a feature of the work I'm doing (which is historical), but I generally don't start with an "idea" so much as a topic on which I have (what I think are) lots of interesting things to say. It turns out, once I write those out and then look closer at the literature, that other people have said lots of that stuff before, or at least, similar things that I can cite as support. Beautiful! Now I don't have to waste a bunch of page-space establishing this one thing, but can cite the good work done by some brilliant scholars, and can spend some time on those other interesting things I want to say. In fact, rarely has someone said exactly the thing I want to say, so contrasting their position with mine helps me to formulate mine much more precisely.
Generally, the more good work there is out there, the better. I realize now that I'm not so afraid of getting "scooped" as I was as a graduate student—we're all better off if more people are making strong arguments for true, interesting conclusions. It will only improve your paper to take account of the excellent scholarship that is out there.
I write to get clear and precise on my own formulation of something, I write a lot, and the delete button is my friend—one way in which I've matured a lot since graduate school is how extensively I "revise"; what I called "revising" in graduate school I would just call "proofreading" or "tweaking" now, what I call revising now is what I would have called rewriting back then. Keep a 'dump' file on a paper and regularly toss whole sections in there and rewrite them in the master document. You may go back to that 'dump' file to salvage an idea that seemed too precious to just delete, but chances are, it's garbage.
I'm not "prolific" by any means, but I publish about 2 articles or book chapters a year with a very busy personal life—I do that by writing first: As others say, write first, situate/revise later. The things you read will all be a mush without some concrete ideas to relate it back to—if you are reading with an idea/argument or interpretation in mind, the literature becomes much more vivid and pointed.
(And, as Michel mentions, writing on an entirely new topic having never read any literature is a bad idea—so, take this with the caveat that you should know something about a topic before venturing something in that arena. Build on what you know already; if you are interested in something outside your main field, work your way over to it from things you already know).

TJack

In my experience, you're barely thinking at all, let alone doing philosophy, if you're not writing. So yes, write first and position later, but that follows from a more general proposition: do philosophy first (this just happens to require writing) and position later.

My experience is that, if you have the time for it, it's all worth investing at least a few hours into---so somewhat more than Marcus recommends. This is just because even if it turns out that someone else had your idea, you can almost certainly *either* improve on what they say (but only if you flesh out your idea a bit first) or learn from what they said (as long as you flesh out your idea enough to make mistakes).

But other than that, I'm on board with Marcus' description. Also important: you'll never get enough external feedback to reliably use that to improve your papers until they're publishable. So you need to be able to improve your papers on your own. This means you need to develop a sustainable editing practice of some sort.

Once you have lots of ideas and a sustainable editing practice, publishing is sorta easy: at any given point, you take whichever of your ideas looks most promising and either (a) crank out something paper shaped that contains the idea or (b) edit and improve the paper-shaped thing you've already built already about that idea. And then you keep doing that. And that's it.

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