Eviatar Zerubavel and in praise of continuous work

One of the most fascinating books on writing that I have read was recommend to me by a professor who I once considered doing my Ph D for. I ended up, for different reasons, doing it for another amazing professor who really helped me think about not just the topic and dissertation, but about thinking over all and the academic context – but the book recommendation stayed with me, and helped me finish the dissertation. As I now turn to writing longer projects again (I have a few on-going) I re-read it.

The book is called The Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zerubavel, and what it recommends is commonplace – it is to divide your book up into smaller chunks and then make progress on those chunks every day. If you write 500 words a day, 4 months will get you to the 60 000 that makes up a goodish book, and Zerubavel returns to this basic insight again and again and suggests almost provocatively small chunks of work and a bafflingly slow pace.

But there is the genius. With his pace, say 2000, words a week, most of us would actually be able to write a book a year. No more is needed. The trick is that there is no trick, just continuous work and doggedness.

Writers write, they say. There is a lot of truth to that, but what the saying does not reveal is that they can write surprisingly little and still produce much.

Here, as in many other cases, the secret is compounding, working on things that accrue more and more value over time. Book writing is like that – and I think that is true also for blog writing by the way – all you write adds to what you have written and creates a structure, and architecture of thinking and writing, that you can inhabit and improve on.

The book is strongly recommended.

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