Today ends the pity state of this blog as a convenient dump for preprints of book reviews, since today starts a new bi-weekly series of posts on my PhD project. The series will include empirical vignettes from Lucknow, an introduction to theoretical and methodological aspects of my research, and more general musings about academic life. I begin with a post of the latter type and address the core of what I do as an academic: writing. Writing papers, chapters, articles, reviews, that dreaded book - and now a blog as well...

To be sure: I also "do research", read, and occasionally teach. But I mostly read to ground my writing, I teach topics on which I also write (occasionally, I even teach students how to write), and I spend most of my time during field research locked in a chamber - trying to write. Unfortunately, nobody really taught me three rather important points about (academic) writing: why it is crucial, that it is hard work, and how to get started. This I had to find out on my own. Here is what I discovered:

Why writing is crucial: people think while they write, not before they write. The issues which academics usually write about are way to complex for their (or at least for my) brain to be grasped in totality. Should I attempt, for instance, to first think through the role of belonging in communal conflict and then write it down all at once, the result will be a disaster. In fact, I would likely be too scared to even start - and rush straight into writer's block. I was relieved when I discovered - towards the end of my fourth term as student - that I was not the only one who learned this the hard way.1 Since then, my writing is almost always re-writing. I re-write countless drafts; the picture on the right, for instance, shows a late chapter draft for my book manuscript on Gujarat, which occupied me throughout most of winter term. Re-writing is the best way for me to think, and all psychological data I found so far confirms this as true for the vast majority of scholars.

Writing is hard work: Another thing which nobody taught me is to think of academic writing as a craft, not an art. This is surely true for my own modest publications, which clearly lack the glitz of polished prose. It took a while until I realized that this is not necessarily a problem. Academic writing does not have to be artistic, it should be clear, concise, and cogent. Thinking of academic writing as craft rather than art led me to two more insights. The first - and good - news was to discover that one can learn how to produce such writing.2 The flipside, however, is that writing continues to flow from hard work and rarely from waves of inspiration. I can sustain my writing for two, max. three hours per day, then I am mentally and physically exhausted. If I write first thing early morning, I might squeeze in another session late afternoon, but usually two hours is all that goes on one day. The rest of my time can and must be spent on other things - reading, teaching, or doing research, for instance.

How to get started: This brings me to my last point, and my most recent discovery about writing: like any craft, it takes routine to improve.3 Since I began to speak with colleagues about their writing (with those who do write and with those who don't), I realize how idiosyncratic such routines can and must be. Mine for instance involves closing the door, arranging a cup of tea to the right of my keyboard (never to the left), putting a conducive record on, physically disconnecting my internet, reading a nice paper for 10 minutes (to crowd out any thoughts of emails and other distractions), breathing deeply, and then starting to move my fingers over my keyboard - for a minimum of one and a maximum of two hours. After a particularly long night, I would sometimes wear a tie to give the occasion sufficient gravitas, and would force myself to take it off should I whish to make a break. Since taking off ties is rather tedious, I will put in much effort to avoid it - and thus continue writing (women will surely find an equivalent strategy). Since I began to follow this routine (almost) every morning, I figured out (by simple calculus) that I produce a net 250 words per hour on average (from white page to finished product). This makes 2500 words per week if I write five days at two hours each, or a journal article in about a month. If, of course, I get started...

In fact, this post got me started. I now have a blog running, but I also still have an hour writing time today. I will likely spend it on my paper on Indian intervention in Afghanistan which needs polishing. Until I return in two weeks with news on my PhD's theoretical framework, I am curious: how do you write?