Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Q & A with Lawrence Friedman: on writing

Note to readers:  This is the second in a series of questions and answers with Lawrence Friedman.  If you have a question you've wanted to ask him, please post it in a comment, or email me. 

Question:  How on earth do you write so much?  Just this year, you published two new scholarly books.  Do you write every day?  Do you write a certain amount at a time (some people set a goal, like 1000 words per day)?  Or do you write for a certain amount of time every day?  Please share your secrets.

Answer (from Lawrence):  How do I write so much?  Well, one flippant answer I give to this (frequently asked) question is:  I've lived a long time.  I'm not retired.  I'm still writing.  So in a way, that's cheating.

I haven't got a non-flippant answer.  My only secret is:  letting go.  I do the best I can, but I'm not the anal-retentive type of legal academic.  I like to finish whatever I'm doing and get on to the next thing.  I know that the work (whatever it is) isn't perfect, but I'm quick to recognize a point of diminishing returns.  Some scholars (particularly in law schools) feel they have to read everything written about the subject, and then some.  It doesn't pay.  And I get bored very quickly, which leads me to say (about whatever my current project is):  OK, enough is enough, let's declare victory and end the struggle with the material. 
Anyway, I hope there's no trade-off between quantity and quality.  I do write a lot.  Is that important?  Frederick Jackson Turner wrote very little.  I seem to remember reading somewhere something to that effect.  But the little he wrote was provocative and influential.