Monday, May 19, 2008


We cannot think if we have no time to read, nor feel if we are emotionally exhausted, nor out of cheap material create what is permanent. We cannot co-ordinate what is not there.


Palinurus was Aeneas's pilot, who fell (or jumped) overboard and washed up on the shore, where he was robbed and killed and, unburried like Elpenor, doomed to wander the earth until his shipmates erected a proper monument to him. But that is in many ways another story. Palinurus was also the pseudonym of Cyril Connolly when he published the minor post-war classic, The Unquiet Grave, about an editor grappling with "the core of melancholy and guilt that works destruction on us from within", which, properly speaking, is also another story.

I want to talk about an experiment in writing process reengineering. At the end of this month, I will be accepting applications from researchers at the department who want to subject their writing process to a somewhat rigorous programme of discipline. It is an attempt to establish a social context for the Sixteen Week Challenge.

My aim is to get people to vizualize their year as oscilating between periods of intense intellectual excitement and gentle mental recreation. The latter includes both rest and "lateral" inquiry, i.e., unstructured creative work. A Palinurean year starts with a Christmas break, passes through a 17 week writing semester (interrupted by a one-week Easter break), followed by a 14 week "easy living" summer, and then another 17 week writing semester.

In order to make this possible, authors will have to define their writing projects explicitly, first in terms of an outline:

And then in terms of a writing schedule that derives from this outline.

There should be one outline and one schedule for each project. Writers then imagine each week as fourteen half days (morning and afternoon):

And they make a realistic plan about how to use those halfdays to realize their writing projects. Note that the red area is the writing time. There should be a maximum of five of these per week.

The blue circled area holds a place for a weekly meeting to discuss the writing process with other members of the group. Like I say, the researchers at the department will be encouraged to sign up by the end of May for the semester beginning at the end of August. That means getting the planning done well before the summer begins. A number of PhD students have expressed interest in running something similar. The idea, in either case, is to establish a "there" to coordinate.

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