Here is a review in Times Higher Education of a book about the management of scholarly information in the medieval and early modern world. The reviewer calls it a prehistory of our current predicament and argues that there is nothing new about our feeling that there is ‘too much to know’. I am interested in the idea that we have always needed strategies for managing information, that reading ‘the whole thing’ has never been a simple norm in scholarly work.
In this article from the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Greenblatt discusses the invisible labour of writing: writers revise endlessly, but readers only see final versions. Greenblatt’s interest is Shakespeare and the notion of sprezzatura, but these ideas are also relevant for academic writing. We might make more time for revision if we understood how much revision goes into published work. Imagining that everything comes easier to other people may be tempting, but it will not help us commit to extensive revision.
Finally, a blog post from The Thesis Whisperer that I could not resist. It starts with an anecdote about infant sleep patterns and moves on to some astute observations about the role of habit in writing. Every parent of a newborn knows (or has been told) that ‘sleep breeds sleep’; could it be equally true that ‘writing breeds writing’? And is it possible that we resist writing as vigorously as babies resist sleeping? The post goes on to suggest that one obstacle to good writing habits may be the absence of an obvious audience; to counteract this anti-social aspect of writing, the post lists some interesting questions designed to bring our potential audience into focus while we write.