Undoubtedly, there are still blessed people that come out of graduate school and find a job on the strength of letters of recommendation and a forthcoming paper in The Philosophical Review. Maybe some perfectionists can still attain tenure in a decent place by publishing a beautifully crafted piece every other year (I doubt it). So, for the rest of the young people looking to be hired in places where some research is taken seriously, here's an important bit of unsolicited advice:
"[I]t's critical to have multiple pieces under review at a time, and to be constantly writing while pieces are under review (so that as pieces become accepted, you have more to send out). I also think there's a skill to develop here, because it requires working on more than one project at a time."--Rachel McKinnon (offered in response to this post.)
- Be interested in other people's views and research. While time-consuming and full of pitfalls (one may become prey to fashion and group-think), this has three long-term virtues: (A) It is much easier to dream up and develop new projects in response to others than creating everything ex nihilo on your own. (Much of the low-hanging fruit has been picked by God, Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, and Hume.) (B) It's sensible to know what future/potential referees might say in response to your paper submissions. (C) You might find good ideas in another area of philosophy (and non-philosophy) to apply to your pet-projects.
- Develop a good understanding of your own writing habits and needs so you can keep writing in sub-optimal circumstances (i.e., when you have to grade a lot of papers; prepare lectures; change diapers, share an office, etc.). Try to write every day. But learn to recognize what kind of writing you are capable of when (and if you need internet/coffee access, music, etc.). I am incapable of writing a paper on a train (I need six to eight hours of guaranteed no interruptions), but I can often do a referee report. When I am in the midst of teaching I am incapable of starting a paper, but I am capable of editing existing drafts, etc.
- Find a fruitful way to store and transform notes into bits of papers. I envy people with a clear note-taking style. I have stopped taking notes when I read or attend lectures--my handwriting was simply illegible. I justify my lack of note-taking by claiming to focus on what I hear (see point 1 above). However, I am a compulsive email writer (and blogger). I have over 100,000 emails stored in my outbox over the last (say) fourteen years. That adds up to more than 7,500 emails/year, that is, about twenty a day. A decent fraction of these is a written record of the reflections I think worth keeping (for my research not for posterity!) in a search-able database. (Cf. Extended Mind, etc.)
- Find and be willing to sacrifice resources to attend focused workshops and conferences in order to give a steady stream of papers. (But make sure there is a good fit between your paper and the likely audience. Also, don't select a conference to meet a senior figure--they are busy, and generally too stretched to give you much time.) If you are a people-person it's a fun way to create artificial deadlines for yourself, meet the like-minded, be inspired (see points 1&3), and learn to anticipate possible objections (from your likely referees [Cf. 1B above]). One non-trivial bonus of preparing, say, a 20 minute paper is that it forces you to consider distinguishing between main and subsidiary point. Of course, some people (like me) love having an audience and forget that much of the hard work in writing a journal article is turning a bunch of slides into a fine-grained and focused argument. [So, if you are using public lectures as a way to procrastinate, stop it!]
If points 1-4 strike you as horrid (odds are you already have tenure), ask yourself why you are trying to be a professional philosopher. It's true that there are plenty of narcissistic, successful, self-deceptive professional philosophers who may seem to refute points 1 & 2 (etc.). But if you go back and read their youthful work, you'll recognize that on the whole (a) they once wrote for less forgiving referees (than presently), and (b) their current lack of interest in others is generally a consequence of their success and aging.