Tag: university

Luhmann’s Zettelkasten

When he died the sociology professor Niklas Luhmann left behind his Zettelkasten, a system of hyperlinked index cards, amounting to ninety thousand paper notes. He credited this system for most of the breakthroughs in his academic career but as a fellow writer I always wondered what sustained him. What kept him writing notes all those years?

As it turns out professors earn their keep through research as well as lecturing so Luhmann always had a professional incentive to grow his garden of ideas. To the best of my knowledge professors are considered eligible for tenure if they publish a certain amount of academic papers per year and Luhmann did just that.

I think it’s harder, though never impossible, to write when it seems like only you care about the writing.

You Don’t Need to Qualify to be a Writer

To the right of my desk, in the top drawer of a steel white cabinet along with all my other qualifications is my Creative Writing degree from John Moores University. Though I’m proud of the work it represents I never felt I needed a degree or any form of qualification to write. When I doodled and sketched on a whim with pencils and crayons as a kid it never once entered my mind that I needed permission to draw.

In the job market of today’s specialised economy qualifications matter because many jobs require them and anyone who goes through their working life somehow ignoring them risks having little to no market power. It doesn’t have to be the most important thing in your life, but it still matters, if only to make money. That’s the job market but what about the book market?

If you look at the books for sale in your local supermarket you’ll often find they stock cookbooks, weight loss books, celebrity autobiographies or novels on the bestseller list. These books are ‘safe’, i.e. publishers feel confident these books will sell because the authors are well known or the genres are popular, e.g. crime. If you’re unknown and the book you’ve written or propose to write is unlike anything in the current market then publishers will think you’re too risky to publish. But, as history has shown, many people eventually break through the gates. It make take them years or decades but they get through.

I doubt any publisher ever looked at a Creative Writing degree and thought that was enough to publish someone.