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How to write a philosophy book - the monograph as laboratory

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This is a guest post by Donovan Schaefer, University of Pennsylvania I’ve always thought writing was strange, and writing a book is the strangest of all. A book project is like building a little planet of words from scratch. It’s disorienting and exhilarating at once. Common sense says that writing is a transcription of what’s in our heads. But that’s wrong. We write to figure out what we think. It’s a laboratory, not data entry. The intuitions that we have in mind about how pieces of information fit together look different when they’ve taken form in a document. Or, put another way, when we write we realize that our watery sense of how an argument will play out has to be given more definition and structure once it actually hits the page. In this sense, writing is problem-solving. This is strange enough with an article, but book-length writing takes the dizzying self-surveying of one’s own mind and draws it out in extremis. The book spools out, folds back in on itself, becomes a sort of organism, with the different parts and components demanding to be connected and synced up just so. This is part of the reason why rewriting existing material (from articles or book chapters) can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, the work is there and done. On the other hand, the milieu of the book changes how the material needs to be oriented. This shift is likely to be subtle rather than major, with each paragraph needing to be brought into alignment with the project of the book (which can’t not be different from the project of the article). I find the re-alignment work of bringing an existing piece of writing into the system of the book is always more than I expect it to be. That isn’t to say it isn’t worth it, but it takes a certain kind of headspace that’s different from writing or even ordinary editing. And the further I am from that initial piece of writing, the more likely I find the reworking taking up a disproportionate amount of time and energy. As Max Weber writes, “[i]deas. . .

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News source: The Philosophers' Cocoon

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