Our books

Become a Fan

« CFP: First Feminist Philosophy of Physics Workshop | Main | Writing a good course evaluation as a student? »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I think it’s ultimately a matter of (something like) courage or fortitude. I think that we know when we are not using time efficiently - reading around the subject unnecessarily thoroughly, over-editing. For me, every few months I get “a download” - I write out 2 or 3 pages of the argument in big-picture premises, as the daimon directs. The rest of my time is spent tweaking and fleshing thatput. If I had the courage to hold on to the electrical fence for longer, I’d write much more and better, but it is kind of exhausting.


My main piece of advice is to write a little every day. Set a small but manageable goal (e.g. write 100 words, fix the typos, read an article, etc.) then accomplish it early in the day. You can do more, but that way you've met your quota early and can be distracted by whatever other commitments you have. It will add up over the course of a month or two.

As for focusing one's writing... I don't have any great practical advice to offer, save that this is what the editing phase and room are for. Once you have a draft, prune it back ruthlessly and send the discards to a separate file so that you can pick up the pieces for a new paper.

CFPs are great for new and narrow paper ideas, but you still have to put your editing hat on!

Assc prof

I second Michel. I'd also add having accountability buddies/groups.

Peter Finocchiaro

I third Michel. But it seems to me that the most important part is to come to terms with the fact that the first draft is going to suck no matter what you do. So let go of these anxieties about sacrificing serious scholarship or rigorous original thought. Write the first draft. Then use a kind friend or two to help you discern which parts are worth pursuing and which parts are not original enough or which parts would benefit from more engagement with existing scholarship.

In general, I think this process is a lot like the process that a stand-up comedian undergoes when developing a set. You’ll have ideas. You’ll try them out. You’ll find out a lot of those ideas don’t work at all. You’ll also find out a lot of those ideas could work if you can fix a few details. But you won’t find any of this out until you get on stage and start testing the material.

Helen De Cruz

Just one dissenting voice: If you can afford it (for instance, you are tenured), maybe just stick with what you are doing? I worry about how productivity culture is sucking all the joy out of us, and I do actually think that sometimes one dense paper is far more rewarding than 3 papers. I do not like "salami-slice" publication (not sure if this is an official term).
I like the slow approach some people take to make beautiful, polished papers and I strive to be more like them. What I really like is a paper where someone develops an interesting idea just as a side point. Yes, it could've been a full paper but it also works in the paper as a whole. Sometimes I see the author has then worked out that idea more fully in a future paper, in one case, even in a book.
I would not, if you can afford it, aim for efficiency in the sense of maximizing output per time invested. The payoff is there in some way, and it need not be quantity. If you are on the job market, it's a different story of course. But we already publish too much for everyone to read, and the world does not become a better place by us squeezing two papers out of what could've been one rich single paper.

Mike Titelbaum

To echo Helen: When I write a paper, I usually have a topic, try to say in the paper what I think about the topic, then move on to the next topic for the next paper. Perhaps this would be professional suicide in the present environment. But it is at least a possible way to proceed.

also for dense papers

@Helen De Cruz, Thank you for mentioning this. It's helpful to hear given that I'm getting pushback from (some) reviewers for writing dense papers and research proposals. I don't know how you can genuinely move research forward if you don't explore an idea in depth and, instead, try to squeeze as many papers as possible. Also, this may be my problem only, but I've always had trouble with getting spin-off papers published, so I've pretty much given up on that strategy (which doesn't help with committees wanting hyperspecialized candidates). As someone on the job market, I'm not sure what the right approach is, though.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Subscribe to the Cocoon

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory


Subscribe to the Cocoon