The Study Dude – How to Write Like a Philosopher

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to write like philosophers Roland Barthes and Ezra Pound.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

The book The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities by Eric Hayot will open up a brand new style of writing for many. In short, he teaches you how to write like a philosopher.

Pay Attention to Your Paper’s Readership
It’s funny that the author, Eric Hayot, writes about gauging readership for your paper and book. It’s worrisomely hilarious because I almost tossed the book out after reading fifty pages. I’m the author’s readership, and I couldn’t bear the drudgery of reading yet another page. What possibly could he say of insight about readership when he failed horrifically at capturing my attention? You see, I ferreted out the main idea of each of his paragraphs with painstaking care?even though there didn’t seem to be a main idea in many of them. Combing through his paragraphs, I could find very little that was actually concrete, tangible, or practical to work with. It seemed like, paragraph after paragraph, my labouring to isolate one main idea was like trying to genetically engineer a flying pig. His arguments meandered all over the place. They weren’t clear. They weren’t continuous.

On top of that, I read in the author’s book that he aims to make his readers undergo anxiety. He creates anxiety by starting with a topic and then by flipping to something seemingly unrelated, and then, lastly, by returning to the original idea to relieve the anxiety. I’m an anxiety-prone individual to begin with, and this tidbit on how he aims to induce anxiety in his readership disenchanted me.

Not only that, but he criticized some of my favourite authors on academic writing, calling them arrogant for condemning much academic writing as boring and turgid. Yet these authors are giants in the world of academic writing. I thought Hayot’s criticisms broke his own code of conduct: thou shall not criticize other writers due to the anxiety writing induces in the first place. I resigned myself to dispose of his book, returning to it only if in dire need for more books on academic writing.

But then an epiphany occurred, a turning point. I returned to the title of the book and pondered its meaning. The book title Writing for the Humanities had me reconsider the author’s meandering and highly abstract writing style. And then it dawned on me: He says he writes like philosopher Roland Barthes. Surely, someone who writes academically like a philosopher intends to teach the readership how to write in a similar vein. With this realization, I found myself entering a new paradigm of thought?a secret club, if you will. Eric Hayot was about to present the philosopher’s stone, and I, the reader, was privy to it. All of my inhibitions fell to the wayside, and I eagerly read on. The toil of ploughing through his book turned into a labour of love. I, too, would learn how to write like a philosopher

In next week’s forthcoming article, I will reveal many more gems from Eric Hayot’s book on writing for the humanities. For now, let’s look at what Hayot reveals about understanding and catering to your readership:

– On one hand, you come from a place of holistic knowledge on what you are about to write; on the other hand, the reader starts from a blank page. This can create a disjunction in thought between author and readership. Bear this in mind when you write your drafts.
– Further to that, your reader may not read with the attention span you might hope for. You also need to bear this in mind.
– Further still, the reader will likely read your work once and then set the book down never to read it again.
– To keep a continuity, isolate the keywords that you develop throughout your piece of writing, and if the keywords are particularly complex, sprinkle synonyms for them early on in your draft so that people can familiarize themselves with the direction you are taking.
– There should be a dependency among every sentence. No sentence should stand alone, completely independent of the prior or subsequent sentences.
– Write your introduction early on, and, later, go back and redo it. Just because you start with writing an introduction doesn’t mean you can’t change it later on. The dictates of the readership should help guide your tweaking of the introduction.
– Create what Hayot calls a “psychological arc”, which isn’t necessarily the same as your content arc. You can do this by creating anxiety, for instance, and then relieving it, creating an emotional, or psychological, tension. To create this anxiety, don’t clarify a complex point with “that is to say…”. No , don’t create a clear and continuous explanation. Instead, create an emotional arc by juggling a second topic in the mix and then returning to that original topic, whereby the second topic and the original topic merge in a new, revelatory way.

How to Motivate Yourself to Write Your Paper
I read a book that advised the reader to sit down for five minute sessions to write. So, I did. I sat down for five minutes for about two months, yet writing daily never gelled into a habit. Finding the time slot for those full five minutes was a random activity. One day, I would write in the morning; the next, at night. The randomness of the writing time slots went against the grain of forming a habit.

I then discovered a temporary fix. If I could access feedback on a regular basis, that in itself would motivate me to write, like finding a writing group of competent academics. So, I began this habit of writing a quota and soliciting feedback, and it worked like a charm, but the feedback came at a price, at a time when the cash-well underwent a temporary drought. My writing stint halted. As a result, I am seeking new solutions for maintaining motivation for writing, although nothing beats feedback when it comes to carving out a piece of prose.

How do writers, like fiction’s best-selling author James Patterson, find the impetus to keep writing? Maybe his motivation comes from the millions of dollars he makes per book. I’m sure a million dollar bonus would motivate most people. Or maybe his writing comes from his gift, his passion, his fixation, his obsession.

But what about finding motivation for academic writing? How can we find motivation for writing bland essays when the only reward is at best an A+?a letter of the alphabet that means little more than a pass or fail at the end of the day?

Eric Hayot states that good academic writing induces anxiety. The process of writing invokes fear. Eric provides a number of insightful suggestions on how to get motivated when faced with the daunting task of writing:

– Because writing produces so much anxiety, turn writing into a habit. By turning writing into a habit, you surely will relieve some of the tension of simply getting started.
– Building a habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days. Plan on two months to form your habit of writing.
– Plan to write an hour every single day. Hayot recommends morning sessions, as willpower depletes throughout the course of a day.
– If you are teaching or have other big demands, try writing for at least thirty minutes a day. If your schedule is free, try writing for three to four-and-a-half hours a day, taking a rest every 90 minutes.
– Hayot tries to write two pages a day when his schedule is freed up.
– Try chewing gum to aid in concentration.
– If you aim to write two pages a day while your schedule is open, you’ll have written a full dissertation within one hundred days. Within two years, you’ll have written the dissertation, addressed errors, performed some rewriting, and spent nearly 3/4 a year researching. All done.
– Make your goals small so that you don’t get overly disappointed and discouraged when they aren’t met. If you don’t reach your goal one day, don’t pile on the remaining work onto next day’s goal. That will only discourage you in the long run. Start each day fresh.
– Build in rewards for goals met.
– If you are stuck, do some freewriting, where you write nonstop for a set period of time. If the sticking point in your writing seems too great to overcome with freewriting, try making an outline of what you wrote, describing each component and how each part fits in the whole. If still stuck, have a colleague or friend read your writing and comment on your work. Hayot recommends sharing your work with a single person, as more than one person makes for too many formalities and airs and trivialities.
– If you face anxiety while writing, question what exactly it is that frightens you and turn it into a research question to solve.
– Hayot likes to write without a clear conclusion in mind as something surprising and enlightening may arise from the research and writing processes.
– Revise as you go. don’t just revise at the very end. It’s okay to do some research in between writing stints, but Hayot advises to not let further research endeavours result in procrastination.
– Once you develop the habit of writing daily, don’t stop. Hayot stopped at one point and found it immeasurably difficult to get back into the habit of writing daily.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

Hayot, Eric. 2014. The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities. NY, New York: Columbia University Press.

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