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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Finitude, Part 2: Space

In Part 1, I asked you to reflect on when your writing will happen. Today, I want to talk about where. There is a really stupid sense in which this question needs to be answered: what door can you close and keep closed for two or three hours each day? Is there enough quiet there? Is there enough light? Is there a place to plug your computer in? But pause and think about that last question for a second. Maybe it's not even a computer you write on. Maybe all you need is a well-lit room and the paper you like, as Mordecai Richler said. The answer is personal, but it needs to be answered: where exactly are the words going to get written, i.e., in what room and onto what "page".

Your writing "space" can therefore be too open in two senses. First, you may have too vague an idea of where your body will be sitting when you are scheduled to write. You solve this problem by securing a quiet room in the house or relying on your colleagues to respect the closed door of your office. The second sense in which your space may be too open has to do with where in your text you will be working. You close this space with a good working outline of your writing project and by making some decisions about how big a project it is (a chapter, a book, a paper). You can carve this space up into sections, and further into pages, even words (a standard journal article is about thirty pages or 8000 words). You end with a two-part question: Which pages will you be filling out today and in which room will you be sitting? Don't expect to get any work done on a blank page in an open space.

Ideally, time divides not into days, hours, and minutes, but into tasks. (History is everything that happens.) And space really divides into facts, not things ("the world is everything that is the case," as Wittgenstein taught us), and claims, not pages and words. You should organize your work around tasks that articulate claims, not merely hours and days spent filling pages with words. But remembering that that is, in one sense, what you are doing, will help you appreciate your finitude. And this, if you'll pardon it, will allow you finish something.

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