Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why do you write?

I am always busy with several collaborative projects (the Coffee Break Conference one, organizing panels for other conferences, editing a collective volume on textual re-use and so on) and this makes me encounter and collaborate with many other scholars. Once, after having heavily edited an article which I though was too weak (lacking a structure and repeating the same points randomly), I received as an answer that

"Your proposals are valid and stimulating and can certainly make the end-product effective, but they obviously make it into your product, not mine"

Now, I know, editors and authors will always argue. I also know that authors might be too sensitive about their own wording, etc., and that I might have been too "cruel" in cutting repetitions and the like. But let me now just focus on the (unwritten) background assumption of this sort of answers:

I write articles in order to express myself. To me, they are like my work of art. And no one has the right to tell a painter that she should paint in a different way, if this is not her way.

This is, to me, striking. I do not write articles to express myself (for that, I use blogposts, comments, emails and the like). I write articles to communicate ideas in an effective way. If someone can find a better way, one that is clearer and takes into account possible objections, I might probably resist, but in an argumented way (e.g., by saying that she has misunderstood my point X at line Z, or that her changes make my argument vulnerable to objection Y), and not because MY product has been violated.
Moreover, I (optimistically, I agree) see my articles as part of a collective enterprise (e.g. "enhancing the historical understanding of the philosphy of testimony" or "making Indian philosophy part of 'philosophy' tout court"). The end-result is, thus, for me much more important than the tools which will lead to it. In sum,

I write articles in order to contribute to the discussion of a problem. My articles are instrumental to something else and not an end-in-themselves. 

I should now add that I have nothing against the first approach. I will just try to avoid collaborating too closely with someone upholding it, as our different views will inevitably clash.

How do you feel about your articles and books? Why and for whom do you write?

For my collaborative projects, see here and here (on the Coffee Break Project), here (philosophy of Testimony), here (volume on quotations), here (my next projects) and here (my free reviews).


Unknown said...

"I do not write articles to express myself (...). I write articles to communicate ideas in an effective way."

I think that best articles are often the ones that combine the two.
In the ideal scenario, these two ends should reinforce each other.
Of course, a work of art is not necessarily something that aims primarily at his author's singular self's expression.
It can be a collaborative endeavor too. (and you probably know how strongly I believe in research as a collaborative thing).
I would love to see more articles that are works of art as much as they effectively convey ideeas, as I believe that usually their are better at effective communication if they are.
I understand that in practice, effectiveness and expression can be at cross-purposes, but it's because people have egos. :)

Ruy D'Aleixo said...

Hi Elisa,

Interesting question! I personally don't care and I'm ready to accept corrections. Plus, English not being my mothertongue, I have the feeling that I will never know what the heck I'm really saying. So better if someone else checks my writings before. Actually, if I think of it, I would like to have an army of proofreaders and editors who would patiently read again and again my writings in search of mistakes. They will spare me a lot of trouble and time. In the meantime I would spend my days swimming in the ocean, thinking new theories and writing them down every evening, in 5 minutes or so. I'm rather a blitz writer - as you can easily notice from the many inaccuracies and mistakes in my blog. And I swear I don't write articles much slower than blogposts (and I know I'm not the only one). I know it's quite wrong, but that's my svabhâva and that's why I like the figure of the editor, "Editor ex machina" ;)


elisa freschi said...

@Aleix, I think I can sympathise a lot. I also enjoy writing and do not enjoy correcting and would be glad to pay for someone to do it for me. I guess that the fact of writing a blog is already a sign for this attitude…

However, I do not think that this attitude is "quite wrong". I'd rather suggest that team work is a good solution (work with someone who is slow and precise and needs you to have pages written down to correct).

@Marco, thanks for the suggestion. It helps me to deal with artists;-)

Anonymous said...

Well, glad to read that you're around! Personally, I do not write a personal blog, nor do I write many articles. In fact, I even abstain from posting answers on Indology, even if it could be helpful -- usually, I do not even comment others' posts on their blog. Why? Because I'm slow and I hate not being able to check and recheck what I've written, until I think it's okay. Ideally, everything I write should be checked at least three times by someone else -- for the content, for the language and again the last proof-reading. Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't really be a "blitz-writer." Is it that bad?

P.S.Notice the Chicago-Style "blitz-writer."

elisa freschi said...

Hi, Anonymous reader and welcome to the blog! I am really impressed by the fact that a perfectionist did take the time to comment here and I appreciate your imput.
I do not think that reading and re-reading is bad… nor that it is the only way. In my experience, the best results are the ones of a team work, with 1. talking about the topic, 2. one who enjoys writing and is not afraid in putting down the results of the preliminary talk, 3. one who re-reads and corrects and possibly "destroys" the first draft, 4. "go to 2" and so on until the result is fine.

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