“It is almost impossible to live in the modern world and not have to write” (Zerubavel, 1999, p. 1).
A muse is a source of inspiration and when pairing it with the word, “clockwork,” it might mean that our work with the clock (timing, scheduling, planning) could be an inspiration. But what kind of inspiration?
I’m teaching PLS 399 Senior Thesis this spring 2014 semester and we are reading The Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zerubavel. This book of a little over 100 pages is a practical guide for writing theses, dissertations, and books. Zerubavel describes how to set up a writing schedule and maintain it over the long haul. As The Clockwork Muse went to press, Zerubavel had published seven books and was Professor of Sociology and Director of the Graduate Program at Rutgers University.
The book begins with establishing the writing schedule, particularly delving into finding time during the week to concentrate on writing. Zerubavel says that once you decide when you can write, you should keep track of how effective you are when you write. Keep a journal by listing the days of the week, the times you wrote during those days, and reflect on your productivity. For example, my journal entries were the following, recently: “I wrote on Monday, from 9 – 10 pm and it was very focused and energetic, but too short. On Wednesday, I wrote from 9 am – 1 pm and it was very productive, I had good concentration, and it was a good session.”
Zerubavel says that you must determine your A-times from your B-times and even your C-times. We want to be at our best during peak writing times – our A-times; however, if our energy wanes, we can do productive tasks during our B-times (checking resources, adding references, revising an outline). And during C-times, we might want to pay bills or straighten the desk!
There are chapters in the book that deal with organizing the process of producing a manuscript, as in Chapter 3: A Mountain with Stairs. A thesis cannot be completed in “one gulp” and Zerubavel stresses that one must think about the project in stages. One of the most effective ways to break down writing the thesis in incremental steps is through the use of an outline. Zerubavel gives a good example of how his outline changed several times as he developed one of his books. Eventually, his outline became the book’s table of contents. And for a thesis, the outline can become the major headings in the paper. The outline can do the following: Aid in the process of writing, help organize ideas, presents material in logical form, shows relationships among ideas in the writing, constructs an ordered overview of the writing.
This has been a summary of some of the main points in A Clockwork Muse. Students and faculty alike who are about to embark on a significant writing project, could be successful by adhering to this guide’s simple but profound principles in developing a certain amount of self-discipline to complete that thesis, dissertation, or book.
Susan J. Katz, PhD, Associate Professor, Educational Leadership
Zerubavel, E. (1999). The clockwork muse: A practical guide to writing theses, dissertations, and books. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press