Do academic researchers spend enough time thinking?
I know that – at least in the romance we spin of what we should be doing – thinking is perhaps priority number one, up there somewhere with teaching, writing, and discussing.
I also know from my own experience that life as an academic leaves little luxury. Thinking – much like writing and actual teaching – seems to be one of those things being progressively squeezed out of our schedules. You can’t put a metric on ideas.
This is why I was interested to come across the following advice in a book by James Scot Bell called Plot and Structure. Bell’s book, like many popular guides to writing, is an infuriating mixture of cliché, positive thinking, simplification, and good-old fashioned worshipping at the altar of Mammon. (This is not a book about writing things people want to read. Fundamentally it is a book about selling books. Call me an idealist, call out my privilege, but the distinction is still important.)
The ‘exercises’ Bell is referring to in the instructions below are classic writing prompts, such as listening to music and trying to write about how it makes you feel, or taking an idea you already have and just imagining ‘what if’, adding speculative connections to what you already know, flexing your imagination.
But how many academics have time to do this basic thing of sitting down and thinking? No book in front of you, no class to plan, no essay to mark, no grant to write, just thinking for the sake of letting your mind work. How many of us do this?
I know I don’t.
But then again, my thirty minutes this week went on this.