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I think it's also worth considering the ebbs and flows of inspiration, creativity, and level of engagement. Ours is a creative job, and creativity waxes and wanes with time and depending on life circumstances. There have been long periods of time (long as in years) where I felt disengaged and unable to write anything of value. Then after awhile (without any particular impetus that I was aware of) both my interest in the field and ideas/inspiration for projects would come flooding back. After watching this pattern over the years I've become less likely to conclude, during a dry period, that it's going to be a permanent state.

Helen De Cruz

Yes, that's right. I wrote about it here -- https://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2021/11/fruitfulness-versus-productivity-thoughts-for-writing-what-you-want-to-write.html
Specifically, it takes time to get your projects to fruition. Sometimes things just need to gestate. We're, to use an agricultural analogy, fruit trees, not milk cows. Treating oneself in the manner of a milk cow that demands a constant flow for productivity is a sure recipe for burnout. Subconscious processes of thinking are also very important, and why you can't force it. This ebb and flow of creativity is one reason I'm a big fan of tenure, which allows the kind of project that needs time and security, to come to fruition.


"The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.“ - Tommy Aqua. The world is a torrent, an infinite spring. You can at best take a thimble-full and sip. Though we are inadequate to the task, it’s the best task there is. If philosophy is straw, then wtf is being an accountant or HR manager, etc.

Matt Tedesco

I'm worried about how the questions raised here, and the advice to lower standards in particular, connect with the broader problems in academic publishing: huge backlogs at journals, increasing difficulty both finding referees and getting quality referee reviews, etc. I think it's true that most of us are not, and won't ever be, conversation-starters or enders--the best we can hope for us to make some (potentially quite small) contribution to an ongoing conversation. But every one of these contributions comes at some very high cost of time and (often unpaid) labor--how much of that can the field actually bear?

I'm not opposed to the "lower your standards" strategy. But I think it would have to go hand-in-hand with some very significant transformation in how those conversations actually happen.

Permanent Lecturer

Along similar lines to Matt above, I think part of the problem might be that, through grad school, job market, and tenure track, we're encouraged to adopt a set of values that aren't necessarily our own. I've never authentically valued getting published in a "top 10" journal. I rarely read things in those periodicals and I find much of what appears there deathly boring. But for a time I felt that I had to shoot for these milestones. I started making real progress in my career (and in my overall health) when I shifted my focus to doing work that I found personally valuable, which meant publishing in places most philosophers haven't heard of, but are important for the kind of interdisciplinary work I do. This is only "lowering my standards" according to the toxic mindset of competing to publish in "top ranked" journals, success at which is as much (probably more) a matter of luck as it is a matter of skill.

I didn't "lower" my standards; I embraced my own standards more authentically and rejected the standards that were imposed on me.

Barry Lam

Billy Joel stopped writing new music in 1993 and to this day says he wished another 25% of his music he never released. He still played Madison Square Garden once a month right up to the pandemic, and still plays regularly now. He only does all of his hits to a happy crowd, and he's happy doing it. When Elton John mentioned that he wished Billy Joel wrote more new music, Joel said he wished Elton John wrote less.

Paul McCartney keeps coming up with new songs and albums, keeps touring at 81. He can't stop writing new music, it keeps driving him, even though I'm confident 99.9% of his fans would trade him performing his new track for an extra Beatles song. On the other hand, Johnny Cash died with one of his biggest hits since the 70s, albeit it was a cover.

I'm really happy Harry Frankfurt got his "Kate Bush" moment in 2005 for an essay that no one in philosophy cared about in 1986, and I think its great we have people who published right up until they die, some even posthumously. But I wish our institutional incentives allowed, even celebrated, people like Billy Joel rather than Paul McCartney. We shouldn't talk shit about (and deny step raises to) people who have accepted that their best days are behind them.

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