Category: How I work

Por la mañana todo es posible

Yo trabajo por la mañana, cuando el soporte biológico del escritor mejor funciona. Al lado de una ventana que da a un patio interior que se llena de luz y por el que oigo cantar a las vecinas, a los pájaros, incluso al perro.

Porque por la mañana todo es posible. Es cuando encuentras la clave de todos los problemas técnicos que de noche te han parecido insolubles.

via Javier Tomeo.

Dealing with the encroachment of the buzz

The idea of keeping yourself on a digital diet will, I suspect, become mainstream soon. Just as I’ve learned not to stock my fridge with tempting carbs, I’ve learned to limit my exposure to the web – and to love it in the limited window I allow myself.

I have installed the programme “Freedom” on my laptop: it will disconnect you from the web for however long you tell it to. It’s the Ritalin I need for my web-induced ADHD.

I make sure I activate it so I can dive into the more permanent world of the printed page for at least two hours a day, or I find myself with a sense of endless online connection that leaves you oddly disconnected from yourself.

via Johann Hari.

How to write: jot down, accumulate, spread out and dispose

Witwer had an original method of composition. He carried small scratch pads and short pencils in his pockets. If a comic idea occurred to him on the sidewalk, at a party, in conference, in a taxicab, in a speakeasy, or anywhere else, he would thrust his hand in his side coat pocket, make a note on the pad, tear off the sheet, and leave the pad in readiness for the next idea. Whenever he heard a very bright remark or a very dumb remark, Witwer’s right hand would dart into his coat pocket.

From long practice he could scribble legibly and inconspicuously.

After accumulating a hundred of two hundred of these notes, he would seat himself at his desk, cover the floor around him with the slips of paper, and start writing. When his invention lagged, he would lean over and pick up a slip of paper. If the paper failed to suggest anything useful at the moment, he would toss it back on the floor and pick up another. Sooner or later he would find a note which would inspire him. Once used, the slip would be crumpled and thrown into a wastebasket.

Quoted in the excellent blog.pmarca.com.

I follow the very same procedure with a notebook I carry everywhere. I often convert some of my notebook/journal entries into permanent notes for my slip box (zettelkasten).

 

Thomas Schelling – Nobel laureate by ricochet

An author who has had a significant influence on my work (before he won the Nobel prize!) by confirming that the observation of everyday events is a good (though not necessarily “academic”) way to start.

An excerpt from a paper published recently (in pdf format) on his approach:

Schelling is the master of ricochet scholarship. He studies a real-world problem and develops a conceptual model. He then takes that conceptual model back to a dozen real-world problems to see how it applies, and then ricochets back to refine the model. He keeps the process going until he is happy with his model, and satisfied with his insights into the problems that most interest him.
(…) None of us could approach his skill level, but all of us could learn from his example. If you are analyzing a policy, you should consider what your problem would look like in stripped down form. Look for an everyday analogue, and determine in what ways it is the same and how it is different. Go out in the real world to examine the information that participants have, the incentives that operate on them.

I have always been inspired by how he starts with real-world problems and, after all the back-and-forth, lets reality determine the validity of the model. Models are an attempt at understanding reality, an attempt -in some ways- at explaining reality. This is the premise for the idea that there is nothing more practical than a good theory.