James Buchanan on Writing
By David Henderson
An excerpt from my appreciation of Public Choice, Gordon Tullock, and James Buchanan:
One other thing I’ve gotten from Buchanan–primarily by hearing it from his past students, and mainly from the most-published ones–is his famous line, “Don’t get it right; get it written.” Of course, ultimately you should get it right, but the big challenge in writing for the vast majority of us is to get it written in the first place. His advice reminds me of the famous line in Finding Forrester, the movie in which a reclusive author gives advice to a young black kid from the ghetto who aches to be a writer: “You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is . . . to write, not to think!”
I could have used Buchanan’s advice about writing much earlier in my career because I earned my Ph.D. at UCLA. Buchanan, who spent academic year 1970-71 at UCLA, sometimes speaks of what he calls “the UCLA disease”: the idea that Ph.D. students picked up from their professors that one must be almost perfect. We were not nurtured and encouraged to write the way Buchanan encouraged his students. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite.
David R. Henderson, “Public Choice and Two of Its Founders: An Appreciation,” in Dwight R. Lee, ed., Public Choice, Past and Present: The Legacy of James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, Springer, 2013.