The Cult of Done Manifesto

Perfectionism is procrastination.

After Voltaire, La Bégueule (1772): “the better [le mieux] is the enemy of the good” (compare Jacques Lacan on beauty as our saviour from truth; see The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60217).

From Bre Pettis and Kio Stark comes a recipe for productivity (Bre Pettis: I Make Things, 3 Mar. 2009):

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

Provost - The Cult of Done

Terra (In)cognita: Mapping Academic Writing in TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Courses

My essay on the essay has been published at Text: Journal of Writing and Writing Courses. It’s called “Terra (In)cognita: Mapping Academic Writing“:

Students and teachers alike bemoan the sorry state of academic writing, as both readers and writers. Nonetheless, they are loath to venture beyond what they take to be the well-known territory of the academic (read: expository) essay for fear of going astray, or unsettling their readers. Here I aim to map the academic essay as it is practised for the most part . . . but also as it might be practised. I offer a cartography — and something of a history — of the ‘point-first’ and ‘point-last’ essay. The former dominates the academy, but the latter is truer to the origin of the essay. Point-first essays allow writers to show what they know, to negotiate known territory (terra cognita), hence their dominance in the academy; point-last essays enable writers (and thereby readers) to find out what they think, to navigate unknown territory (terra incognita), where lie dragons . . . or riches.

Let’s Do the Time Warp: Becoming Productive as a Scholarly Writer

Because to be productive = to write in the ‘accountabalist’ university, perhaps the problem for scholars today, especially teaching scholars like myself, is how to make time to write — and how to make best use of that time.

For me, being or rather becoming productive as a scholarly writer is not about whether or not my “research environment” is productive; that is out of my control. Nor is it really about freedom from teaching or other pressures — a kind of negative freedom. Rather, it is about freeing myself to write: what might be called positive freedom.⁠ I am, I think, my own worst enemy when it comes to writing (and I’m sure this is the case with most academics — though they might not care . . . or dare to admit it). Or rather, if I am to write well — or, at least, better — the easiest place to start is with me.

Freeing myself to write, then, involves two tasks: learning to manage my time better to allow time for writing (see Boice 1997), and learning not to be too careful too early in the writing process to allow writing to do its work (see Elbow 2010).⁠ Because I know that once I start writing I never have trouble doing it, I must allow myself to write and to free write.

Here is the essay.


What follows draws heavily on Mark Nichol’s “8 Types of Parenthetical Phrases” (16 Jul 2012, at the excellent Daily Writing Tips site.


A non-essential phrase that can be inserted at the start, in the middle or at the end of the sentence, a parenthetical phrase serves one of eight functions. (By way of an example, the opening phrase here is a parenthetical — an appositive, in fact — as is “by way of an example.”) Because it is grammatically inessential, it should be set off by commas.

1. Absolute phrase: An absolute phrase (a noun/pronoun + a participle) modifies the entire sentence, acting like an adverb. It is “absolute” because it is grammatically independent of the rest of the sentence.

Jane stayed up late, writing her report.

2. Appositive: An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that is juxtaposed (“apposed”) to another to rename it, i.e., to identify or explain it, or supplement its meaning.

If you, an experienced hiker, had trouble, how hard will it be for me?

3. Aside: An aside is a phrase or clause that qualifies a sentence. (Compare interjections, which are “content-less.”) It can also be placed within parentheses or between em dashes — like so — to intensify its effect.

Her friend, I hesitate to say, has betrayed her.

4. Free modifier: A free modifier adds detail about the subject (“I” here). It is “free” because it can be positioned wherever it sounds best.

I stood up and, brushing off my pants, continued along my way.

5. Interjection: An interjection — here, strictly speaking, an exclamation — injects into the sentence information (or rather, an emotional cue because it is “content-less”) about the writer or speaker’s state of mind.

Well, what do you have to say for yourself?

6. Introductory phrase: An introductory phrase precedes the main clause to provide contextual information.

On vacation, I had an epiphany.

7. Resumptive modifier: A resumptive modifier “extends” a sentence by repeating a word and adding detail, i.e., resuming the sentence.

She was exhausted, more exhausted than she had ever been before.

8. Summative modifier: A summative modifier extends a sentence by summarizing an idea expressed in the main clause (hence “summative”) and adding detail about it.

We headed toward the summit, the goal we had anticipated all week.

(To remember the eight functions, think “the AA aficionado made amends with the IRS for his intemperance.”)

“. . . they gnawed their tongues for paine”

“As the true method of knowledge is experiment, the true faculty of knowing must be the faculty which experiences” (William Blake, All Religions Are One, pl. 3: “The Argument“): gnaw not your tongue for pain; bite instead the hand that feeds — it is the hand of God Geometer, a.k.a. Urizen.’.pass.

un-less.we.light.out. — and. —



Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait II: After the Life Mask of William Blake (1955)


The Oulipo” by Stefanie Sobelle, Bookforum (2 Oct. 2009).

I am not aiming to acquire . . . a certitude about the truth of what I state as true in memory. All I need to do is remember at the moment when, remembering, I wrote what I remember. (Jacques Roubaud, The Great Fire of London)

Cover of "Life: A User's Manual"

Sobelle introduces her Oulipo reading list:

Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, both writers and math enthusiasts, began collaborating in Paris in 1960. The duo quickly attracted a following, which became the Workshop of Potential Literature (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or OuLiPo). Inspired by their love for mathematics, the group devised rigid constraints for literary production, including such puzzles as bilingual palindromes, isopangrams (twenty-six-letter-long statements containing all the letters of the alphabet), and N+7 (replacing every noun in a text with the seventh noun down in a dictionary).

The aim of Oulipo, as Queneau suggests in his 1963 essay “Potential Literature,” was

To propose new “structures” to writers, mathematical in nature, or to invent new artificial or mechanical procedures that will contribute to literary activity: props for inspiration as it were, or rather, in a way, aids for creativity.

Theirs, then, was a performative and heuristic model of writing; according to Mónica de la Torre in “Into the Maze: OULIPO” (, they wanted

  1. “to write literature that could not be easily consumed and disposed of, literature that was always in the making” and
  2. “to devise a system to guarantee that writers would not run out of innovative formal possibilities.”

Queneau split from the Surrealists because he considered much of their experimentation without literary merit, mere “eructative” (“shriek”) writing and without scientific rigour, hence the motto he and Lionnais devised: “the only literature is voluntary writing.” Oulipo is procedural, constrained in advance, rather than apophenic (“patternicity”: looking for patterns in random material) or aleatoric (automatism: randomising).

Some of the numerical, alphabetical, graphic and prosodic possibilities of constrained writing that Oulipo explored include

  1. the Knight’s Tour
  2. lipograms, used in Perec’s A Void
  3. the N+7 machine
  4. palindromes
  5. Perec’s “story-making machine,” used in Life: A User’s Manual

A reading list (available partly or wholly online  ✓):

  1. Oulipo Compendium, ed. Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie (Atlas, 1998) ✓
  2. Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature, ed. and trans. Warren Motte (Dalkey, 2008)
  3. Exercises in Style, Raymond Queneau, trans. Barbara Wright (J. Calder, 1981) [see Wikipedia] ✓
  4. Writings for the Oulipo, Ian Monk (Make Now P, 2005)
  5. Life: A User’s Manual, Georges Perec, trans. David Bellos (orig. 1978; Collins Harvill, 1987) [see Wikipedia and Paul Auster's NY Times review] ✓
  6. The Great Fire of London: A Story with Interpolations and Bifurcations (trans. Dominic di Bernadi; orig. 1989; Dalkey Archive P, 1991) [excerpt] and The Loop (trans. Jeff Fort; orig. 1993; Dalkey Archive P, 2009), Jacques Roubaud [see Wikipedia] ✓
  7. The Conversions, Harry Mathews (orig. 1962; Dalkey Archive P, 1997) [see the Paris Review interview with Mathews] ✓
  8. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino, trans. William Weaver (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981) [see Wikipedia and David Mitchell's Guardian retrospective] ✓
  9. Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books, Marcel Bénabou, trans. David Kornacker (orig. 1986; U Nebraska P, 1996) ✓
  10. “The State of Constraint: New Work by Oulipo,” McSweeney’s 22: Three Books Held Within By Magnets, 2006.

I would add one more essential text: Raymond Queneau’s Letters, Numbers, Forms: Essays, 1928-70, trans. and intro. Jordan Stump (U Illinois P, 2003).

See also

  1. Six Selections by the Oulipo,” The New Media Reader, ed. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort (MIT P, 2003) 147-89
  2. Foulipo,” Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young, talk for CalArts Noulipo Conference (Fall 2005): a call for a “feminist oulipo”
  3. Oulipo Ends Where the Work Begins: A Weekend in Four Constraints,” Christopher R. Beha (Sep. 2006)
  4. Drunken Boat 8: Oulipo special issue (2006)
  5. “The Oulipans & the Situationists,” David Vichnar, Vitalpoetics: A Journal of Critical Literary Theory (2008), online at David-Baptiste Chirot, 4 Dec. 2009 [you'll have to "find" this entry, as the blog is continuous (aargh!)]
  6. Constrain Me, Baby,” Lily Hoang, HTMLGiant, 21 June 2010
  7. Remix and Potential Criticism,” Richard Edwards, Remixing the Humanities, 25 Mar. 2011