Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It is your career

It is not your adviser's, your mentor's, your significant other's, your father's, your mother's, your department chair's, your dean's, the head of your campus's tenure and promotion committee; its your career, and that is both a terrifying prospect, and a liberational truth. The job you get, what you publish, what you study, and what you teach have nothing to do with any of these people, regardless of what you think. It is your life, your career, and even those from the most collectivist cultures in the world must contend with this fact; your career most certainly can be a way of giving back to your community, but it is yours. You are not failing anyone if you have the type of career that YOU wish to have.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hello UWT Students

I just found out that a class at my home institution, the University of Washington Tacoma, are reading this blog. Please feel free to respond to any posts, and ask any questions that you wish me to respond to. Also, feel free to say hi to me on campus!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bang for the buck

At this point in the term, there are just more things to do than I have time (or energy) for.  At moments like this, when I feel so "full," so completely swamped, I try to see if there are things that I can do that give me most "bang for my buck."

Yes, there is the list that tells me what must be done- I have to do the things that cannot wait (for example, I have a conference abstract due tomorrow, yikes!). But, what can I do that will pay the most future dividends, give me the most satisfaction and/or value for my career? Thinking about these type of tasks when I feel swamped help me keep a forward focus when I cannot seem to get out from under the mountain of tasks.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Remembering to read

Remembering to read; sometimes I just forget. I know, it makes no sense. After all, that is what academicians do no? We read and write, and these inform our teaching, which in turn again inform our research. It is the cycle of discovery, of inquiry, of the academic life. Yet, sometimes I just forget how central reading is to this equation. Not just reading for classes, or for a particular article, but to stimulate and push my thinking. Today, I am going to finish Pico Iyer's, The Man Within My Head. What are you going to read?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Humility verses vision

I am often struck how sometimes publishing an article comes down to striking a fine balance between humility verses my own vision. Editors and reviewers ask for one set of changes; sometimes I don't see them as improving my work. I know that I need to be humble enough to take in their feedback, yet at times be willing to walk away if my own vision for an article would be compromised by revisions (read- submit to a new journal right away).

I need to make certain that I don't see my words as too precious; there are many ways to approach language and scholarly work. Yet, at times, bending will not serve my work well, and I know it. There is not magic formula for how to do this, other than a good deal of self reflection, or getting feedback from a trusted colleague or mentor.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Get er' done!

One of my favorite expressions from my three years of living in the South: Get er' done! To me, "get her done" is about movement, momentum and completion. It is about knowing which of the multitute of tasks that we all have just need to be finished, not debated, contemplated, or crafted with an eye to perfection. The truth is, we all cannot bring our "A" games to all the tasks in our life; there has to be a place for just getting through some tasks.

So, in that spirit, here is a challenge: Take a look at your to do list (yes, you need one or two, if not more, two do lists), and knock out a few tasks you that need to be done. Find ones that do not need the best of you, but just need to be completed. Identify them, and "get er' done!"

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Generating verses completion

For scholars trying to be productive, one of the most important issues to attend to is the balance between generating the new, and completing the old. There is no magic formula regarding how much attention to pay to one or the other, yet some attention should be paid to both.  

Those who start new things every day and pay no attention to finishing have lots of wonderful ideas but nothing to show for it. Those who pay no attention to new idea formulation tend to have large blocks of fallow time after an article is submitted. Both can be depressing.

My advice, assess your tendency and consciously work toward a balance between both tasks. Push yourself in the direction that runs counter to your tendency (if indeed, you find yourself not well balanced in this regard).

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Memoir: Falling South, is now published!

The only sad thing, perhaps, about having some success in publishing articles and books has been my lack of excitement when new work is published. It’s sort of a ”been there, done that” feeling. I remember when I held my first book in my hands, the feeling of excitement, the joy, the tears. It was a very, very special day.

Now, that feeling is back!!!!

My memoir, Falling South: A Memoir of Revolutions, is now out! You can get it in an EPub format at: 

It is perhaps the work of which I am most proud and excited. It might be valuable for those teaching narrative non-fiction, travel memoir, coming of age memoir, or for this interested in Central America in the 1980s.. Or, perhaps you just want a good read! Below is the synopsis.

Falling South is the memoir of a twenty one year old man seeking to transcend a deep and unsettling loneliness. Experience the drama as it unfolds in Central America in the mid-1980s, a land of war and revolution, an unwitting, tragic pawn in the last days of the cold war. A poetic and emotional journey, the author juxtaposes and contrasts personal and political revolutions. As you travel south with the author, you will encounter expatriates, revolutionaries, and those neglected by the seismic changes shaping their lives. Falling South is a journey of leaving home and finding it within. Falling South is a genre bending book, synthesizing the best of memoir, travel writing, and political reportage.

If you would be willing to tell those you know about it, I would be most thankful!!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is a publishing coach?

I get asked this in emails a great deal (including one yesterday). I have a website that that describes what I do, but thought I would answer that question here.

First, there is no clearly established "profession" called a writing or publishing coach. Those who do it seem to be either academics, "ex" academics, or professional writers. I think the best are practicing academics who have gone through the tenure and promotion process, have produced a good deal of scholarship AND know how to teach what they do. The last part is what is often missing, but none of us "have it all."

I also see my role as being somewhat different than someone who focuses solely on writing and publishing, in that I help doctoral students and faculty in several additional domains. So, what are these domains?

1) Writing productivity- how to help you produce more of what you are working on.
2) Articles- Everything you wanted to know about an article but were afraid to ask.
3) Managing the peer review process- most scholars think they know how to do this, but make a good deal of mistakes.
4) Thriving in the academy-  how to build a career that you love.
5) Academic job hunting-  from cover letter writing all the way through negotiating your contract
6) The psychosocial barriers that inhibit the above- my special focus;  helping scholars understand how they get in their own way, and how to we capitalize on their strengths and minimize our weaknesses.

While in an idea world doctoral students and faculty would get the support they need from their home institution, sadly, this is not always the case. You don't need to work with a professional coach to get all of your needs met, but you certainly do need to find people who can help you with each of these domains. When thinking about your career, think about your goals, and what supports you need in each of the above domains. Find people who can support you in each. Build your support team; it is one of the most important things you can do for your academic future.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The power of collaboration

Last night I went into an article I am working on with colleagues, and saw two of them "in" the Google Drive document. We are just putting the finishing touches on the articles, so all of us were excited to put in the last citations and other small details.

Tongue in check, I asked, so, now what. David, do you have any ideas?

A half hour later, we were feverishly working in another document, laying out the architecture for another paper. This morning when I woke up, there were a couple of pages already written.

Such is the power of well-executed collaborations, with colleagues who are passionate. Get them together using the right tools (e.g. Google Drive),  create a bit of structure, and wow.

The key is finding the right people and creating the right working context. See past threads for tips!

Monday, September 30, 2013

"But that won't work for me"

I can't tell you how often I hear those words, or something very similar.

"That might work for others, but it won't work for me."


"I tried it, but it did not feel right. Its just not me."

New behaviors rarely feel right; they are new. Breaking old patterns and habits is hard; it demands hard work, openness to feedback, and the willingness to take risks. If you find yourself saying these or similar things (to yourself or others), take a moment to consider how helpful these beliefs are to your career.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Practice campus interviews

Are you on the academic job market? If so, do you have someone with whom you can practice various campus interview scenarios? If not, time to find someone who can help you think through how you come across in various situations.

Too often, people practice their job talk, but neglect to prepare for the other situations they will encounter. Remember, every encounter you have is an interview, from the emails you write, the way you submit your materials, even your most casual contacts are all part of the "data" that search committees use in their decisions. You need to know how you come across in such situations.

Find someone today and get feedback on how you are coming across. I could mean the different between an offer or not.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I'm back!

Well, its been a while; I have taken some time off  form writing in my blog (no, in all honestly, not planned). In truth, I think I was getting stale with it, and moved on to other writing projects. Also, I have been very busy with coaching clients; while things have slowed up to some degree, this ebbs and flows.

What my work with doctoral students and faculty shows me is that universities often do not provide enough support to their doctoral students and junior faculty in writing and publishing. Thus,  why I have worked on my blog in the past, and thus why I am going to try to get back to it.

I am going to expand it more into the realm of the academic life, including job hunting, surviving universities, and managing careers. Its nice to be back.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Happy Summer, Quarter System

The University of Washington adopts the quarter system, so today marks the start of my summer. Actually, last week should have been the start, but I spent a week in a training on online and distance education.

So, now that summer is here, it is time to assess my writing projects. Here are a few questions I am using to guide my reflection today; perhaps they may be of help.

1) What articles to I have partially done that I should attend to?

2) What have I really been wanting to write about but have not?

3) What writing tasks have I been avoiding?

4) What are potential win/win collaborations that I can work on?

5) What would be the markets of a successful summer, in terms of my scholarship?

Time for some journaling.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Sometimes we don't get to have total clarity when we are writing. I like to encourage people to develop good structures that help carry them forward, that make the process of writing academic work smoother, more "predictable." I worry, sometimes, that perhaps I am setting people up if I don't warn them about the gap between this ideal and what can happen in the messy world of writing. You see, that is just it, writing can be a messy process. At times, we have to allow for that messiness, for that chaos, and write our way out of it. Tough work, and for those brave enough to write.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Joy and an Honor

Sometimes, I am just astonished at how lucky I am to be able to do the work that I do. I am spending the weekend working with a group of doctoral students on writing. We are talking about dissertations, research, writing productivity, the psychosocial barriers to writing, ect. Now, they are doing an hour of writing on their dissertation topic, working through a model I provided them on the different modes or phases of academic writing. I sit with them in silence, or rather, in a space of silence that is interrupted only by the hitting of computer keys. I watch their faces, bet the two giant labrators on the floor; how lucky I am.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"Old books" for inspiration

Today I picked up a very old and dear copy of a book that was very important to me years ago; The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon." I forget, sometimes, to go back to my roots, to read the works of those who were most inspiring to me. Today, Fanon makes me want to write, to write big ideas, to not worry about impact factors and such, but just to write the truth, or at least my truth. In the end, this is why we write, to make an impact, to write our truths.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Desite it all....

Slick, my 15 year old dog, died last night. I had to put him to sleep; his heart disease progressed, and he was left a shell of his former self, and was starting to suffer.

Today, I am left empty. I feel soulless; those of you who love companion animals deeply will understand. And so today, I will write, despite it all. I will write with a heavy heart, with a deep and profound loneliness that rattles me to the core. I will write, because in the end, it truly does not matter if I do or don't so I just might as well. This is how I have managed through the years, through deaths, disease, heartache. I write because, I write in spite of, I write anyhow.

Slick, I write these words for you today. Your life gave me life, your warmth and grouchy love gave me the comfort to write books I never dreamed would I be able to write, articles I did not know I had in me. You, dear sweat and grouchy boy, mattered to me.

And this dear readers, is all I have to offer to you today. If you write today, and if I ever have inspired you to write, please dedicate a few of your words to the memory of my dear boy, Slick.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Back, and will be starting posting again three times a week ASAP. Thanks for your patience, and hope you have been writing a ton!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sorry for the break

The last few days and the next couple might not be very productive here, as I have been traveling around Russia to conduct writing and publishing workshops.  More soon!

Monday, May 13, 2013

The steps that people want to skip

Step is  not the correct word, but domain. When I do workshops on writing academic articles, many of my participants want to skip over an exploration of their psychosocial barriers and and method of writing production and go right to the information about journal articles. Try as I might, some people just don't wish to see how they get in their own way, and wish to focus on the "technology," if you will, of the journal article.

What I have seen over the year  is that not looking at how you get in your own way, through perfectionism, procrastination, fear, anxiety, and other such issues I have explored here, is the downfall of many academics. When they get stuck and don't write, they either blame external factors that seem to have very little to do with their lack of productivity, or they sink into total self deprecation and blame.

Neither positions is helpful. What is needed is a honest, non-judgmental self evaluation of the issues at hand.

Sadly, some don't seem to want to do the self exploration needed to really thrive as scholars. How much I push the issue depend on the degree I am willing to engage in conflict.

In my coaching practice, that is one thing. With participants of workshops, it is a very different story.

Hopefully, some of you have made some of the changes you need through having read this blog, and having worked on some of the issues that you have explored.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Weekend Challenge Number 12

It looks like we missed a challenge last week during my travels. Sorry about that.

This week, lets do a a very simple and quick idea generation exercise. I like doing this one every once in a while to help me not worry about my ability to generate new ideas.

So, for the challenge, write the title of three articles you would love to see written.

Don't over think, just write.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Perhaps one of the most powerful emotional states that inhibits the work of scholars is hopelessness. Hopelessness can come in various intensities and can attack scholars for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, even the smallest defeat will trigger a powerful wave of hopelessness.

Consider the following "sources"

A senior colleague says something critical about your the type of work you do
An article comes back from a journal rejected
A grant you applied for was rejected
A colleague who you started the same time as is going up for tenure early

These are but a few. But are they really the source, or are they merely triggers? This is the type of self exploration that you must do. Without bringing these issues to light, you my be thrown off when hopelessness attacks.

Think about this post, and perhaps write a bit in your academic journal (or start one if you did not have one yet).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Resource sharing

I would like to ask my readers to post, under the comment section, their favorite writing resources and tools.  Please post other blogs, websites, books, articles, or writing tools that you have found helpful in your journey as a writer/scholar.

I always love to learn new tools, tricks and sources of inspiration!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Neglected Third Factor: An Article by Robert Boice

I frequently advise my students that a good literature review means looking into recent publications and, God forbid, writing from "the good ol' days" (in many of their eyes, more than five years old!!).

So, listening to my own advice, I reread an article I have not looked at in some time: Boyce, R. (1985). The neglected third factor in writing: Productivity. College Composition and Communication, 36(4), 272-480.

This is one of the seminal, foundational articles on writing and faculty life. Of course, you may not be as excited about the literature on faculty writing as I am, and may just wish for a distillation of a few lessons that I learned.

Here are a few, but certainly not all.

First, this article was based on a small, experimental design that tested the relationship between writing productivity and creativity. It used three groups: scheduled faculty writing with contingency (potential punishment), unscheduled writing, and a control group.

So, a few lessons.

1) Scheduling writing sessions beats unscheduled writing for production and creativity.
2) Creativity depends on writing and production; it is not based on inspiration alone.Good ideas come from your butt being in the chair, slugging it out, day after day, year after year.
3) Regular writing beats binge writing.

These are all things I have written about in depth, but it is important to go back and look at the source of your ideas, even if you are not conscious of where that source was from. Boice has been one of the (perhaps the) most important scholars in the area of faculty writing and production- I suggest you read some of his work. Good research builds off of the work of others; be generous in your acknowledging the work of others. It is a good writing practice.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Fear as an opportunity, as a teacher

When faced with difficult feelings, we often feel the need to "make them go away." It is natural to want to feel better. This desire may be especially true with writing, which can often feel difficult enough. I have  previously written about the various emotional states and issues that can get in the way of productivity and thriving.  Indeed, many of us must attend to our difficult emotions and learn to push them aside in order to get words down on the page. Blocking out what we feel so we can work is often a good thing to do.

There are times, however, where it is important to reflect upon what we are experiencing, and to try to learn from it.

Fear, for example, can be an important teacher. It can help us discover things about ourselves, and push us to grow in new ways. One of my favorite lines from a song, "Hey Leonardo", is: "The things we are afraid of, are going to show us what we're made of in the end."

The next time you find yourself feeling afraid, ask yourself what this fear can teach you about yourself, about your life, and who you wish to become. 

While this post may not seem as if it is about writing or publishing, I think some of you can come up with examples that will show that indeed it is.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Feedback, please!

It has been a while since I have received any emails about the types of posts that you like the most. Please, provide me with some feedback, either as comments, or private emails, about what you find most helpful (and not helpful), about this blog. I want to make sure that the posts I write are meaningful to you, my readers!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing in different states of consciousness

No, I am not talking about a 1960s-esq, Hunter S. Thompson gonzo experiment. No Timothy Leary blotter paper or special mushrooms for you today (at least not due to my counsel).

What I am asking you to consider is the assumption that you must be totally "with it" and at your best and to write. I did not sleep very well last night, and woke up, as we say in our house, squishy. I don't feel very bright, and am not sure that I am going to write anything very insightful. Yet, I have some work on a chapter to do, and my calendar said that it was a writing hour. So, write I will (with this as a warm up).

Yet, I also know that I can take advantage of my different states, moods or spaces. Each allows for a different type of writing, and a different way of approaching a problem. While not a specific weakened challenge, I do suggest you learn to write under less than ideal psychic conditions.   Spend some time writing when it seems less than ideal; you may learn something about your own process. You also may feel good about yourself and your fortitude and consistency by pushing through when you may otherwise not have.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weekend Challenge #11

Sometimes, its good to push ourselves to work on our line by line writing, and consider the choices we make. For this weeks's challenge, comb through the last article/paper you were working on. Find a sentence that is poorly written.

Now, rewrite this sentence three different ways. Assess which of your new sentences you think is most effective. 

Post your results here if you dare!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing and Sushi, Revisited

In a post last summer, I waxed ever so poetically and philosophically (cough cough) about the relationship between writing and Sushi.

In the post, I suggested that writing demanded considerable repetition and practice. When we watch a skilled sushi chief, everything seems so smooth and easy. What we do not see are all the hours spent practicing his/her craft. We do not see all the countless hours of mistakes and miscues (yet, the fantasy of being present for those, and being able to eat the mishaps and miscues, is appealing).

It strikes me there are several other ways in in which writing an article are like sushi.

First, there are some things that are mandatory, but some things are based on preferences and who you are. For example, good sushi demands high quality fish. A good article demands a tight structure, and clearly following through on what you propose. However, not everyone likes to use soy sauce with their sushi. Not everyone mixes the same ratio of washabi (horseradish) to soy sauce. Knowing what is essential and what is optional is really important.

Two, being good means relying on your strengths, but also stepping outside the box and taking risks. A good sushi chief will always rely on what he/she does well, but will try combinations that surprise, delight, and sometimes fail. As a scholar, you need to do the same. Stay with your bread and butter, but make sure you don't become stale. Innovation and the creation of new knowledge demand the later.  Being productive demands the former.

Well, I think this is a good start- I will pick up this metaphor soon.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Don't edit while writing? Another perspective

Recently, I did a presentation for faculty at my university on professors' relationship to "the written word." As part of my presentation, I gave a few tips on increasing productivity; really the kind of things that I have been writing about here. One of my tips, which I have written about before, is to not edit while you write.

Well, this tips was challenged by one of my colleagues. He believes that for him, editing while he is writing is a way of sharpening his thinking and his ideas. He believed that for some of the student that he has worked with, their main issues with writing are less technical and more about their ideas and thinking, so spending time crafting a careful sentence can help them develop their capacity for thinking. I may not be doing justice to his ideas fully, and probably am going to sit down for a chat with him to try to understand his process more.

For now at least, I am not sure that I agree, but I did want to share with you this alternative perspective. While it might work for him, he is also an accomplished scholar who has published a great deal. I like to think of it, perhaps, as a master artist who breaks the rules. A master artist has already mastered his or her craft; breaking the rules is a conscious decision for specific reasons.  The great abstract authors where usually classically trained; they broke rules for very specific aesthetic or philosophical reasons.

I think for most people, editing a line while you are still writing, while you still have ideas that need to come out, greatly slows the process. Of course, working on your writing and crafting each idea carefully is an essential part of the process; I just believe that for most people, doing so too early really can be more of a hindrance than a help.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weekly Challenge #10

Wow, we have made it to ten challenges now. Has anyone done all ten of them? I wonder if anyone will make it all the way to 100 (including myself)!

For this one, I want you to experiment with the magic sentence (as part of the magic paragraph that I have written about).

Here, you write this: the purpose of this article is to_________.

Simple, right?

Simple, but not easy. Take the article you are currently working on, or one you wish to work on, and really work at crafting that sentence. It is the most important one of your whole article, and is the one that guides you through your whole architecture. If it is flawed, your in deep trouble.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


My friend, co-author and favorite editor today asked me to explore the importance of learning to handle rejection. The topic came up when he asked how many times certain books of mine were rejected before I ultimately found a publisher. The range was from 1 to well over a hundred (and I still have not found an agent for my memoir- but that is a different  story!)

Here's the truth- you are going to be rejected. Or really, you will not be rejected, but your work will be rejected. That is an important distinction. Too often, when scholars have an article or some piece of work rejected, they take it as a sign of personal failure or inadequacy. They become rejection phobic, and start to not produce work, in fear of subjecting themselves to the painful emotions associated with their fear of rejection.

You have to develop thick skin,  and resolve your emotional and cognitive barriers, and realize that your work is going to be rejected. You have to learn to be ok with it.And the more you write, the more rejection you are going to have. If you struggle with feeling rejected and become demoralized when an article gets trashed, you have some work to do. If you don't, you are going to have a painful career, and the pain you feel from perceiving yourself as being rejected is going to get in your way.

Self help book, therapist, best friend, journal, or coach: work on that fear of, and over-attachment to, rejection.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Complex Analysis, Simple Words

Don't mess up your sophisticated, wonderful analyses with overusing the most complex, difficult to follow language possible. Using the best word does not always mean the most impressive (notice, I could have used erudite, but.....). Simple language allows us to speak to diverse audiences (notice, not discourse communities).

Of course, using dense, theoretically laden (perhaps better, big :)). words is sometimes essential, but only when they are the best, absolutely necessary words to use.

Manta: complex ideas, simple language.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Weekly Challenge #9

Being away really reminds me of the importance of place and context for my writing. That is, I always seems to write a bit differently when I am away. Frankly, it is liberating.

For this week's challenge, go someplace you have never written before. A cafe, a dinner, a city a few miles away, your car by the ocean,  a small rural library, wherever. 

Spend at least one hour writing, if you can. 

When you are done, reflect and write about the experience, using the following prompts.

What was this experience like for you? How did this change of location make a difference (if it did)? What can you take from this about your future writing rituals and work?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Not so good advice

Well, I am certain that some of the advice that I have given has not been great for each and every one of  you. Writing is, at its core, a creative process in which we each need to find what works for us, yet be willing to try new methods and ideas.

However, I do think there some pieces of advice that are really just not good. For instance, I recently read an article on academic writing in which the author suggests that we should not send out an article until it has been read by at least ten people.

There are several problems with this feedback. First, ten different people are going to provide t en different types of feedback- how in the world is someone ever going to reconcile all of those disparate ideas?!

Second, at some point, this is what the review process if for! Do a good job, get some feedback, and get it out there!

Lastly, can you imagine the amount of times it would take to actually contend with that much coordination and communication? I think I would never have published anything had I learned, and felt the need to follow, this piece of advice earlier in my career.

So, the point is, be open, but be critical of what you learn about writing. Even (or perhaps especially) from me!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Guest Blogger: Dr. Riki Thompson

Today's guest blogger is another groovy faculty member at the University of Washington Tacoma. Riki Thompson teaches writing at UWT, and is known as being one of our best teachers of writing. She is one of the people I go to when I really want to understand writing from the perspective of a composition studies scholar.

I provide you a link to her terrific blog, in which she explores what moves her to write.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Leaving on a jet plane....

Well, I will be traveling for the next few weeks. I am doing research interviews with expatriate men who have retired overseas. This is an ongoing project that explores the intersection between globalization, transnationalism, and the psychosocial health of older, expatriate men. I hope to conduct these interviews in about ten different countries over time. My hope is that it leads to a book, but at least there should be a few articles that I will write from the data.

Have no fear about blog posts; I have made sure that I have gotten a bit ahead, so you will still get at least three posts a week, the weekend challenge, and hopefully even a guest blog post as well. What you may not get is a really fast response if you contact me; although you will hear from me soon! (and while I make that disclaimer, I tend to respond pretty quickly!).

I am also excited to have a good deal of time to write. Away from home, with no responsibilities other than my research and feeding myself, I tend to be as creative and productive as I am capable of being.

Happy writing, time for a really long flight!!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Weekly Challenge #8

For this week, I want you to come up with a challenge for yourself, and for others on this site! What can you do to push yourself today that might be helpful for others to try? Post your response under the comments, please.

Friday, April 5, 2013

A therapy video with a writer working on his procrastination

I found this video looking for materials for a class I am teaching on cognitive based approaches to change. I thought I would share it with you, as it presents a therapy session with an author who talks about his procrastination problem.  Watch the video and see if you can relate to some of his "process," and see how he creates barriers that inhibit his work. Also, consider how the session can help you think through ways of exploring your own problems with procrastination. The REBT or cognitive-based approach helps you identify the thoughts and behaviors that can inhibit your work.

If you have these issues, see if you can use this material to make some changes. If you can do it yourself, great. If not, seek a mentor, writer/s group, therapist, or writing coach!

See video

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The best writing? When it just does not feel right

When am I proudest of my writing? On days when it just is not going well. Today, I read through and worked on a a co-authored article; I am the second author. I really was not "feeling it," not inspired, and just was not doing great stuff. Yet, after an hour or so, I was able to get out 300 words. I will clear it up tomorrow, to assuage those feelings of "not good enough." I am working with a partner, after all.

But you know what? It are days like these that are the most important, the ones that in the long haul I feel most proud of. Not the days of awe-inspiring inspiration, but those when I am just grinding it out, doing my job. It is days like this that make, for me, the days of inspiration possible.

For me, the key is to not judge myself, but just do the work, the best I can, day after day, year after year. Of course, I need to evaluate the work, but this is different from judging myself, and comes after, not on, days like this.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Writing across boundaries project

One of the great things about writing this blog is looking up other people who contact me or leave comments, and seeing what their interests are. Through one of you, I found the website for the Writing Across Boundaries Project of the Department of Anthropology at Durham University. They state that they are dedicated to improving qualitative research writing for doctoral students: a worthy project indeed. They also have a page where they have invited some excellent social scientists to write about writing.  Here is that link.

Writing on writing: Writing across boundaries project

I have yet to explore the site a great deal, but plan on doing so myself over the coming days.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Weekly Challenge # 7

What does thriving mean to you?

For this challenge I want you to consider the one word in the title of this blog that perhaps I have written about the least: Thrive.

What does it mean to you to thrive as a scholar? Spend a half hour and write your response to this question. Please feel free to post the distillation of your ideas, or all of what you have written, if you wish.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Have me come to you!

Spring is upon us, and it is going to be a busy time for me. I am teaching online this term, and so have the flexibility to do some publication workshops at universities in different countries. Over the next few months, I will be presenting at universities in the Philippines, Russia, and Germany, and most likely in Portugal and Thailand.

If you would like me to come to your university to do a workshop, contact me and we can talk about it. Just don't ask me to do it this spring: it is going to be busy enough.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I am, and will always be...

A few days ago, an anonymous poster made a post that I promised I would respond to. If the post was not made anonymously, I would most certainly ask for permission before I responded more publicly and re-posted it here. However, since it was anonymous, and I think I can take the opportunity  to address an important issue, I will take the liberty to do so. Here is the post:

"I am just too stuck in my ways at the moment to attempt even a small change. The idea of forcing myself to write 500+ words a day is just not me. I am not that disciplined. The other problem is that while I understand what you are saying with regards to looking up references etc later and just write, I can't do that, I absolutely hate if I have something down on paper and I know the reference may be somewhere in a big pile of papers in another room, I just have to get it and make sure I have it and re-read it again etc. Seems like some form of OCD."

Read this passage carefully. What you will find are several statements where the author assures us that "this is the way I am," and both implicitly and explicitly says, "and I will never change."  The author conflates behaviors with essential, fundamental aspects of the self. While the author recognizes that he or she is stuck, he or she also states that the idea of forcing him/herself to do something is "just not me." These behaviors are so fundamentally part of  his or her self that her/she could never change, and if he/she did, than somehow it would be a very assault to the self, or a very assault on the individuals essence.

These absolutist or essentialist views are a big part of what is keeping the author stuck! As long as she or he holds tightly to this notion that this is the way she or he is, she will not do things differently. And  the truth is, these are merely behaviors and habits, which can be changed. People often change behaviors that they have engaged in for decades. Of course, it take a great deal of hard work, and in the case above, the author would have to challenge forcefully and continually challenge these essentialist beliefs about who they are. I found a one minute audio on this from Dr. Mitchell Perry. It might feel a bit harsh, but it puts it out there! 

This is an example of what I call a psychosocial barrier to writing. In my coaching practice, I have discovered that there are at least five key domains that I help people with. Writing productivity, journal article writing methods and skills, the rules and norms of the academe, the ins and outs of peer review, and psychosocial barriers. Too often, the psychosocial barriers are what hold people back from performing in the other domains. They KNOW what they need to do, but hold tightly to beliefs and behaviors that get in their way.

Change is hard, and change is often painful. Yet, if you wish to have different results and outcomes, sometimes you have to change your tools. In the case of the scholar/writing, the tool is the self.

For what it is worth, and I hope I did not offend the original poster.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Weekly Challenge #6

Earlier this week, I encouraged you to take a look at the website of a journal that may not (probably not) have been in your area of interest. Now, find a new journal in your field, or one that you do not know very well. Spend fifteen minutes really getting to know the pages, and see what you can learn about the journal,  and through this process, about your own work and how it may or may not fit. Take some notes about what you have learned.

Responses welcome in the comments section, as always!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Reading a journal's website, continued

There are a few other issues to consider when exploring a journal's website. In addition to the practical issues regarding publishing in the journal, do pay attention to the thoughts you have while exploring a journal. It is amazing how often I have had, and have heard others have, new ideas for articles when we are evaluating a journal. Looking through the range of topics and titles can help us think outside the box, and consider our work in a new way. I think it is a healthy exercise to evaluate new journals at least once a month. Keep track of the thoughts you have for later use.

As far as other technical issues, make certain to pay careful attention to the types of articles and word length for each type. Submitting an article that does not fall within word count guidelines can be the kiss of death. If your article falls outside word count limits, contact the editor to see if they are flexible. Also, how and when he/she responds will help you get a sense of how responsive, or "author friendly" he/she is.

You also want to make sure to really pay attention to the citation convention. Some journals use conventions that are atypical- make sure to look at how papers are to be formatted to save you time and grief.

Also make sure to pay close attention to how to submit your article. Must you make it 100% blind? Do you submit through an online system? Paying close attention to details will help quicken the pace

Do let me know if you have any questions. This is not the first time, and will not be the last, I discuss journals.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reading a Journal Website

Learning how to evaluate a journal is an important skill. We have explored the associated issues of impact factor and prestige previously, so I will not be discussing them here. However, as we mentioned, it is important to pay attention to such issues, and how they will impact your career. For now, I want you to think about how to "read" a journal's website, and what information to consider when considering whether or not to publish in a journal.

Lets take a good look at a journal that I have not really explored much before: Journal of Research in Gender Studies. I will spread this discussion over a couple of days.

Open the link, and lets take a look together. On the front page, it talks "about" the journal. This can be called the aims and scope in other journals. Scroll down, it explores the range and scope of disciplines covered. It also presents the 2012 acceptance rate. At 24.76 percent, I would say this is a moderately competitive  journal. Of course, this may or may not have anything to do with the quality of the journal, and the type of experience you will have as an author. That has to do with author friendless  which I have explored before, and will do so at other times. It is a very important concept.

Scroll down farther, and it presents where the journal is indexed. If you take a look at the different tabs, you will see it provides information about the editorial board, information for contributors, and contents. Lets take a look at the contributors contents page. I always take a look at an issue or two, and get a sense if my article "feels" like it would fix. That is important; if you don't get a sense that your work is congruent with what you see, you may not have a great chance of having a paper accepted. Personally, what I like about what I see is that this journal has a very inclusive view of what research is. Some journals that use the word research in their title seem to privileged research informed by logical positivism. Not so here.

Now, spend a few more minutes evaluating the journal. See if you can lean anything else that you would need to know in order to make a decision for yourself. I will pick this discussion back up in a couple of days.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Did you try the word count challenge?

Did you try the challenge this week? If you tried, but found yourself stuck or blocked, what got in the way? What happens when you internalize writing expectation? Do you encounter bits of perfectionism? Do sink under the weight of anxiety?

Do challenges like this push you to write a lot, to do whatever you need to to move forward? If they do, good for you!  Bottle what works, and use it to help you in the future.

If they do not, view your experiences with challenges such as this an opportunity to work on the psychosocial blocks to your  writing and publishing success. Try to see your weaknesses not in a shameful light, but as part of what it means to be human. Doing so will make them easier to work on. When we judge ourselves too severely, we tend to find ways of defending against them. Face them gently, and commit to working on them, one at a time.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Politics of Faculty Life, Part 1

Ok, I have to admit something. I did not mean to hit the publish button on yesterday's post, raising the question of what is the nature of "politics" in faculty/university life. I had meant to hit the save button, and keep it as a question for me to consider writing about. Yet, since I did hit publish, and not save, it looks like I am committed to some writing.

So be it.

So, over the next few weeks, I will try to write at least a few posts exploring the nature  of university politics.

So, for today, I will bring up one key point; the importance of understanding the culture of higher education, and your university and department in general.  In particular, what are the roles of those "above" you in the tenure and promotion process? Many junior professor get themselves into problems that feel political and sticky (and lets define the notion of politics later, and stay practical for this post) because they do not understand the nature of university power and decision making.

It is essential to really understand what your chair or director does, as well as what your dean and provost do. How do they evaluate you? What is their role in the tenure and promotion process? Do you have annual evaluations? How do other faculty factor into this?  These are questions that you need to understand, and doing so helps you to consider the nature of your relationships to these people. How do you go about getting this information? Ask your mentors, others you trust in your department, and folks in other units. Study the organizational charts. Read your tenure and promotion guidelines, and understand each person's role in this process.

Of course, developing this understanding is only part of what you need to know when considering the politics of university life- but we have to start somewhere, and I did not give myself my time to consider  where to start.

As you can see, what comes from daily writing is not always brilliant, and perhaps does not always have to be.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


When we say that academia is political, what do we really mean?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weekend Challenge #5

I am posting this weekend challenge early, as to not disadvantage people in much later timezones. Of course, you have to read the blog often to see this challenge :).

For this challenge, we are going to do a simple word count tally.  Write as many words as possible about ANYTHING! Whoever posts in the comment section the largest word count written on THEIR WEEKEND wins. We will define the weekend as Saturday at 5am your time, to Sunday at midnight, your time.

What do you win? A free hour coaching session with me (maybe not such a wonderful prize, but something free is always nice). You may keep the session for yourself, or gift it to someone else.

So, post your word count for the whole weekend by Monday night Pacific Coast time. Honor system.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

First Guest Post!: Greg Lamphear, Journalist, Editor, Writer


Our first guest post comes from Greg Lamphear, journalist, writer, and academic editor.

Check out what he has to say about an important topic-passion.
Putting passion into writing while keeping emotion out seems like a bit of a paradox. But wait! It ain’t!
Writing with emotion is not the same as writing governed by emotion. When I first started writing, and learning about the lives of some of my favorite writers, I began to get this false idea that writers must be tortured animals suffering over each word they write. Sure, many writers are driven to write because of inner demons; however, the majority of paid writers put one word in front of the other because they are driven by passion to put words on a page, not to escape some mental drama.
There are some who can write, but then when they do, they have a negative emotional reaction to the words we put on the page. I understand that very well. Doubt, insecurity, and anxiety are the filters we must overcome. Again, for me anyway, it takes the passion to see the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph to rise above those emotional barriers.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest posts!

Starting this week, we are going to have periodic guest posts from scholars, writers, editors, and others who may be able to help you with your writing, publishing and success in the academic life. If you have any ideas about who you would like to hear from, or the type of guest posts I should seek, do let me know!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Weekend Challenge #4

The challenge for this weekend is meant to help you explore the connection between writing and environment. Spend 15 minutes writing in three different places. The places should not be in the same building, so three rooms in your house does not count. Be creative; lets see who can write in the most "interesting" places. Consider it a challenge (it is, after all, the Weekend Challenge!).

PS..Watch for next weekend's challenge a day early; their will be a prize for the winner!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Please be careful.....

...before you start an edited volume. Make sure such an endeavor is the right thing for you before you start.

As you hopefully have gotten a sense of, it can be both and amazing, and amazingly frustrating experience, all at the same time. Frankly, I would not even consider taking one on until you have published enough articles to meet your goals (unless your discipline demands you write or publish a book for tenure).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Edited volume start up thoughts

You have carefully considered the downsides and have decided to try your hand at an edited volume in spite of my warnings. Congratulations; I hope it leads to professional success and gratification. 
Now, get ready for an exciting and bumpy ride. First do not expect this to be a smooth process. If you do expect this to go smoothly you are going to be in for a very rude awakening. Expect the unexpected. Expect who you thought would be certain to provide you with chapters on time to be just the ones to hand in their chapters late, or never at all. Expect there to be problems, delay and hassles. If you do so, you are well on your way to having the perspective you need to start the process.  This is an long race, not a sprint. Short articles are sprints- this is an endurance event!
First, you need to find a publisher. To do so, you need to write a prospectus and send them to potential publishers. Starting your edited volume without a contract is usually a very, very bad idea, unless you have a huge reputation or your book is a surefire excellent seller (and anticipating this is way beyond my skill-set!). Most of us mortals will want to write a prospectus first and submit to a few publishers.

So what to include. You will need to look at the guidelines for authors of the presses that you wish to query. For the most part, stick to university presses or well respected publishers; you want your book to be viewed positively in the T and P process. In general, you will have to write about the nature of the problem you are exploring, the nature and contents of the book, explore why your book is different than the competition, who the competitors are, and why your book will sell. It is a good idea to think about classes where you book might fit.

Depending on your reputation and publication record, you may wish to have a sample chapter, for example, your introduction, or at least part of it. This will provide publishers with a sense of your writing. If you do not, brag about your skills and accomplishments a bit in the letter and include a writing sample. Most publishers also ask you to submit your CV.

The majority of publishers accept electronic submissions; a few do not. Make sure in your letter to say if you are submitting it to multiple publishers. While submitting to multiple publishers is permissible (unlike with scholarly articles), at some point, hopefully, a publisher may ask you to give them the first shot at the book, or may be willing to contract with you. Here is were things get interesting, and very exciting. 

If you are asked to contract for the book, you then enter into negotiations on a variety of issues. This is a bit beyond the scope of this post, but I will discuss these issues another time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Peer review to open access- an article

Given that the hole nature of peer review is being increasingly contested, I wanted to provide readers with a link to a fascinating read. Don' worry, more on edited books tomorrow!

From Peer Review to Wisdom of the Crowds

Monday, March 4, 2013

Edited Books: Part Three

Now that I have possibly scared you out of taking on an edited book, let me tell you why you might want to consider doing one. In the final post in this series of posts, I will present some thoughts for starting the process, should you consider doing so. For now lets consider some benefits.

First, being the editor of a book is a great way of connecting to other scholars. For our current book  I was able to reach out to some scholars that  truly respect. A couple were not able to commit to writing chapters but I really enjoyed making contact with them and engaging them in dialogue.

Second, being an editor of a book is a great way of collaborating with someone you really want to work with. The only real reason I said yes to working on another edited book was to work with my dear friend and colleague Alyssa Ackerman.  Being able to have a lot of contact with her and sharing our ideas about what we like, and what we wish to have changed, in some chapters has really enriched my life.

Third, being an editor of a book is a great way of developing your reputation in your field. Since the publication of one of my edited books "Transnational Social Work Practice," I  have been invited to speak at international conferences and events, and have made some fantastic connections.

Fourth, it really is an exciting process. in spite of some of the frustrations and problems. I really enjoy getting great chapters from great scholars. Even earlier in the process, I really like crafting the structure of a volume; its a really enjoyable creative process.

Fifth, a good edited volume makes a valuable contribution. Some edited volumes can be powerful contributions to your field.

More to come!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Weekend Challenge #3

Last week you analyzed the structure of an introduction for an article from a different field, and were asked to explore what you found effective and less than effective. For this challenge, do the same thing but with the conclusion section for a different article. Do a five minute free write about what you learned, and how you can use this information for your own work.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Edited Books: Part Two

In my last post, I mentioned two issues that you need to think about carefully before committing to editing a book: market considerations and prestige.

The fact is, the publishing industry is undergoing a lot of changes. Publishers that previously took on books that would not make a profit are less willing to do so. It used to be that university presses were viewed as being an essential part of the mission of universities, and it was often expected that presses would run deficits and be covered through other means. This is not the case anymore, at least not for the majority of presses. Most university presses must be self supporting. This means that books that might not sell well are less likely to be given contracts. The truth is, edited books, unless they clearly can be implemented in introductory classes that are common in many universities, often do not sell well. So, while you might not see sales as a primary motivation for editing a volume, publishers do. You need to carefully think through your market, think through what classes your book could be used in, why libraries should buy it, and why it is essential for your field/disciple.

The second issue you need to consider is prestige. Edited books, depending on your discipline and university, may not be a great "bang for the buck" use of your time if you are on the tenure track. Often, edited books count little more than one article in the minds of some members of T and P committees; I know it sounds crazy, given the amount of work edited books take, but it is true.  Paradoxically, edited books are given much more weight outside of you the campus T and P structure, and can be a great way of getting known. So, know where you are on the T and P clock, and how you are doing with meeting (or exceeding, preferably) campus and disciplinary standards before you commit to an edited book.

So, two posts basically telling you why you should not even consider edited volumes; next we will explore why you may wish to do so.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Edited books, Part One

After my second edited book, I promised myself I would not do one again, at least not for a long, long time. Authors that write God-knows what but not what we asked them to write; others that refuse to return emails and messages for months on end; and finally, those who suddenly forget how to write- it was enough to make me go mad.

Yet here I am, half way done collecting chapters on my third edited book, and my colleague and I are thinking of two more.

Well, never say never, right?

So, you are probably asking- why? Why the reluctance, and why the sudden surge of energy toward this type of project that I recently swore off.

My reluctance stems from two main areas: the above mentioned issues with authors, and the lack of respect for edited books and their decline in today's market. I will deal with the second issue in another post.

So, issues with authors, sigh..

First, authors flake. You might think they will not, but they will flake. On one of my two published edited books, "Social work Practice with Latinos: Key issues and emerging themes," one author just did not even return my calls or emails after agreeing to do the chapter. I became concerned and called his home department secretary, only to find out that he was just smashing! To date, I hope to see him at a conference!

So, if you are going to consider an edited book, I have a few recommendations based upon this.

First, choose your authors carefully. Check for ambivalence, pay attention to any communication issues in the initial phase, and back out if you get the sense they will not follow through. Be careful of the biggest names in the field, but also realize that at times, even your own friends will be the one's that are most problematic! After all, you will understand (they seem to reason :)).

Second, have back up authors. Make sure to choose people ahead of time, and go to this list if you are not getting responses.  Set your guidelines for when you will go to this list and stick to it.

Third, give yourself enough time to be able to meet these challenges. If you ask the publisher for a year to complete the book, plan on having your chapters done in 8 months. This way, you can have a four month grace period to get those last few chapters you need.

Forth, when you write your prospectus, give the publisher a range for the total word count for the book, and shoot for a few chapters above the top of the range. In my current project on the criminalization of immigration (with Alyssa Ackerman), we contracted for our book to be between 100,000 and 120,000 words. At an average of 5,000 words per chapter (we gave authors the range of 4,750-5,250 words), we would need 20 chapters to meet our minimum, and 25 for the maximum. So how many did we seek out: 27. W figure that we will get at least two people that flake out or have health or personal issues, and perhaps one or two chapter would fall away somewhere in the process after that. If we get all 27, I am sure the publisher will be fine with us going over a bit, given how we wrote our prospectus. If things go very poorly, we still should be in the 20 chapter ballpark, or we can write a chapter or two ourselves.

This is a lot for one post- I think I will stop here and continue with some of the other issues in my next post.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Let's talk about edited books

For the next two weeks, I am going to explore various aspects of book publishing. In the past, I discussed the importance of knowing when and if to choose a book over articles. In some disciplines, you must write  or edit a book(s) to get tenure. In others, books are valuable, but are not required. There are other disciplines where edited books are viewed as being of less value than a high quality peer reviewed article, or than an authored book. If you are on the tenure track, or hoping to get there, you really need to think though these issues carefully.

So, ready, set, and get ready to explore the world of edited academic book writing and publishing.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Forgive me, for I have spammed (???)

A couple of days ago, I was accused of being a spammer!! Therefore, I want to apologize if I offended anyone by attaching so many research interests to this blog on (a great source of scholarly information and connection, if you have not used it. I should write a post on it soon!!).

It is my hope that this blog serves as as a valuable tool for some of you, and can provide a small amount of inspiration. Since it is not geared toward any one discipline, I have tired to caste a very wide net in letting scholars know about it.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekend Challenge # 2

Read the introduction to an article outside of your field. Analyze the structure. What do you think is effective? What might be done differently? Looking at an article structurally can be a powerful way to improve your own work. Doing so with an article form a different field and area of interest will insure that you pay less attention to content, and more to structure.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hand write 200!

Ok, its that time to stop what you are doing and write! (yes, again!!) This time, however, don't use your computer. Stop what you are doing and write by hand, two hundred words on an article or book on which you are working, or about an idea you have for one.

After you are done, consider if writing by hand is different for you, perhaps you access different material and energy, than when you write by computer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A great quote on writers block!!

I love this quote below. I have written about the social construction of writers block a few times here, but I want to simply share this great quote. It is from,  Silvia, P. J. (2007). How to write a lot. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. This is a good book, and belongs in your collection of writing reference books.

"I love writer’s block. I love it for the same reasons I love tree spirits and woodland creatures- they’re charming and they don’t exist....Writers block is nothing more than then the behavior of not writing. Saying that you can’t write because of writers block is merely saying that you can’t write because you are not writing (p. 45-46)."

So, what are the implications of this quote for you? Do a ten minute free write about it, in your writer's journal, and please do share with me what you came up with. Any insights that can help you through the next time you have a hard time writing?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Do I really need to learn how to write an article?

But I Completed A Graduate Degree!

Ok newly minted PhDs: the following questions may have popped into your mind: why do I need to read about being a more productive writer and the practice of writing writing; shouldn't I be able to write well-enough by now? Hasn’t my work on a thesis or dissertation prepared me sufficiently for the demands of writing academic articles? The simple answer, is probably not. You may have trudged through your dissertation,  hating every minute of it. Or, perhaps you did not hate the process of writing, but realize that it was far more painful than it needed to be. You have learned that writing is hard, and some of your writing habits may be making it harder.

In regard to writing academic articles, which I explore often in this blog, you probably have a sense by now that your dissertation did not prepare you for what you need. Writing a dissertation is like running a marathon; writing an article is like running sprints. Both take great skill, but use a different set of muscles, if you can forgive me the perhaps stretching the analogy a bit slightly thin.  While on the surface both activities seem to be the same, they are in fact very different. Also, many of you also learned a very sad thing from your dissertations: a disdain of writing.

So, I urge new PhDs to consider the ways in which the current writing practices and skills are not congruent with article writing, the bread and butter of academic life.

Read on, or backward if your new to this blog. You may learn a trick or two. Also, feel free to contact me with tricks of your own- I am very open to learning.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lesson from a broken keyboard

My computer keyboard sadly on my laptop s partally ded (yes ded you wll have to fgure out what that means)...Can you tell what letters are mssng? Can you see that have no comma?

Two hours untl the computer store opens up-  have to get an external keyboard.

So  am left wth a couple of thoughts. Frst how helpless  feel wthout a fully functonng computer. Second how prvledged  am that  have one and that  can go to the store and fx the problem easly.

Thrd that wthn every problem rests the opportunty for a creatve soluton. And f  would to wrte and f  am commtted to dong so then there s nothng that need stand n my way. Ths really fouces me to wrte and not edt no?

Besdes thnk of the word choce and sentence contructon choces that  am not forced to make.

And yes  am actaully gong to post ths.

 May your laptop not get water splled on t by a random stranger whle you are n the bathroom.

Happy wrtng!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Introducing: The Weekend Challenge

I am going to start to post, each Saturday, a different challenge for your to complete. Some of you consciously take the weekend off; you are able to find ways of being productive during the five-day work week, and take the weekends as a time to rejuvenate, rest, and live the rest of your life.

Good for you!

Some of us do work on the weekend; we find that if we live balanced lives all the time, and really love our work, and want to do some writing during the weekends.

Others can't stop working ever- that is another issue, for another time.

And some have not found their writing groove; please keep reading this blog and other inspirational material, and seek out help and support.

But I digress.

So, each Saturday, I will post a weekend challenge. If you accept the challenge, and wish to do so, post your experience trying (and succeeding or not) the challenge under the comment section for that day.

Weekend Challenge #1

Go back into your files and find an old paper or part of a paper that you never did much with. Read it and see if it sparks any ideas. Perhaps you can easily get it into shape, or perhaps it will spark other ideas. Maybe it is publishable now, but perhaps not in the best journal, but in something a bit less challenging. Regardless, go back and see if you have anything to work with. You may not wish to publish it, but you may discover something of value.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Expanding focus: Bonus writing

Bonus writing

Even if you do focus on one article, and one section at a time, the concept of “bonus writing” may be of value for you. Bonus writing is writing you do when you feel you cannot write anymore, but want to just push yourself a bit more. For example, let’s say you have been working on the discussion section of an article. You spend an hour writing, and at some point, feel burned out. You can no longer focus on the topic, and find that your writing is no longer clear. When you experience this mild burn out, try moving on to another section or another article. We have found this can be productive for several reasons. First, you may find that you were just tiring of the material on which you were working, but actually had some energy for writing. Even if do find that this is not your best writing, bonus writing on other sections or articles can add up to a good deal of writing, and add greatly to your overall productivity. Remember since you are are writing only and not editing now, and will clean up your writing later, it is ok for your first drafts to be less than fantastic.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Focus: Go where your energy is

“Go where your energy is” may sound like a philosophical or new age idea. However, it is extremely practical and one of the most important ideas to incorporate into your writing discipline.” Go where your energy is” means that you should focus on that which interests you the most, on articles and sections of articles that are calling for your attention. When we follow our energy, we often find that we can write a great deal in a very short time, producing a great deal more writing than when we “force” ourselves. Of course, this must be balanced by the need to eventually finish your work. Having ten articles in various phases that never get done won’t help you; at some point you have to focus on finishing your work. However, by allowing yourself, especially at the start of your writing sessions, to be creative and explore, and to focus on that which you are drawn to, will allow you to produce a good deal of work. Over the long haul, this will be important toward meeting your writing goal.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Circuit training for scholars

Circuit training is a powerful method for using weights or other short burst exercises to train your anaerobic and aerobic systems (sorry exercise physiologists if I am misrepresenting the nature of circuit training, it is not my field).

When I do circuits, I do a burst of push ups, followed by planks or crunches, followed by several minutes on the bike, followed by squats, and finally rows with a band. Then, I repeat, with only very little rest in between circuits. It is an amazing way of training the body.

You can do the same thing with your writing for change of pace. This can be a valuable way of getting you unstuck, and in helping you get out of a rut.

So, try this circuit one day this week. Use a timer so you don't have to pay attention to the time.

1) Read an article relevant to your work for five minutes
2) Write in your article for five
3) Free write for five
4) Rest for five

Repeat three times, for a total of an hour.

DON'T feel you need to do this exercise if you are in an excellent writing grove. Save such experiments for when you have some extra time, or when you are trying to experiment with some new ideas.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A question of focus

This week, I will post three short pieces on the notion of focus. To jump into it: should you work on one article at a time? Should you work on one section at a time? These are important questions to consider, and in truth, the answer will usually be “it depends” and “everyone is different.” While there are often personal and idiosyncratic ways to approach these and other questions of focus, this does not mean that we do not have some guidance for you Here, I present several principles  that can guide you as you explore your your working style regarding.

Complete one or work on several?

You will need to decide whether or not to focus on one article at a time, or allow yourself to work on more than one article (or more than one section of an article at a time). People who need structure, a high level of organization, or a sense of completion would be well served to focus on one section and one article at a time. Those who enjoy working more fluidly may find that they are more productive if they focus on more than one section or more than one article at a time. We suggest that you experiment with both styles of working, and decide which is best for you. In general, I believe that it is a good idea to have one article as your primary focus, but to allow yourself some flexibility.

On Wednesday, I will explore the rationale for this guidance.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The 100 word version

When you are feeling stuck on an article, not sure what to write, not sure what to say, try this exercise.

Write a 100 word version of your article. Not an abstract, but a 100 word version with a newspaper or magazine in mind. Sometimes, getting to the essence of what we wish to say helps move us forward.

Forcing ourselves to put words to paper is another benefit of an exercise such as this.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Shame Part 3- Disconnecting

Anyone who has been involved in "professional helping" has had clients disconnect. Sometimes it is a conscious choice; they find they do not need help anymore, do not find the help of value, no longer can afford it, or have met all their goals.

However, sometimes I think people disconnect from their support systems slowly, by accident, and then feel too ashamed or embarrassed about reconnecting.

I remember this happening with a massage therapist I was seeing for a back problem, a long time ago. I remember missing one appointment, and then missing another. I remember feeling ashamed about this, and then somehow that embarrassment grew to the point where I could not possibility ever contact her again. The same thing happened in my Egyptian civilization class when I was a freshman in college (but, I forgive myself for that one, great material, horribly boring teacher!).

I have seen this with some of my coaching clients, and also people I have mentored over the years. I can almost feel the shame when they recontact me; they are so tentative, so fearful.

And my response? I just feel glad to hear from them. It is important to make people feel welcomed back, to allow people to reconnect. When we are on the other side of things, when we are the one that is ashamed, we imagine the worst. Usually, however, people are just glad to hear from us. This is important to remember.

Yet, how to connect to those who have "left."  I want to walk the fine line between being a support, challenging the type of disconnection that often is a huge part of people's writing problems, but also respect people's privacy and choice. I think I need to develop some sort of personal and professional policy for this. Any suggestions? I posted about this a bit last week, but wanted to follow up more directly and connect it to some of our past discussions.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fifty first

Ready to start your day? Time for coffee or tea? How about just 50 words first, or maybe even one hundred? If you did that each day, just as a ritual, how would that change your life?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Know Thyself

Look- have you to be true to yourself. You have to know how you want to spend your time, and spend your professional life, and not force yourself to be the kind of scholar that you do not wish to be.

If you love empirical work, and really only want to write about this type of work, do it!

If you love parts of the writing process but hate others- get collaborators to help with the parts you hate.

If you want to publish an article every few years, and really not make writing a big part of your career, you better find creative collaborations or find the type of university that will support this level of contribution.

There are so many ways of capitalizing on our strengths; too often we feel we have to do everything by ourselves. The academy supports this type of isolation, but we do not need to buy into this type of isolationist approach to our work.

Find colleagues to work with. Find editors. Be true to yourself.

Of course, this does not mean you can get away with only doing what you wish- life does not work this way. Still, you have to know yourself, and be true to yourself, and see the type of career you wish to have.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Helping a friend who is stuck

What do you do when a colleague, friend, or mentee falls off their writing wagon? Pushing might feel unkind, uneasy, but should we always take the easy path with those we care about? How much tension should we be willing to cause to help someone get back to writing?

When we are stuck, we come up with a thousand reasons why we are stuck, and do whatever we can to avoid confronting it. When people remind us of how stuck we are, we can easily turn on them, be defensive, or avoid emails or calls.

I would love to hear from some of you the strategies you have developed. I still struggle with how much to push, and when to back off and give someone their space. After all, adults have freewill, and we should do what they wish, correct? If someone wants to be left alone, should we?

Still, the stakes are often high, and we are in community with each other. Sometimes, caring for people means being willing to piss them off, and risk being abandoned by them.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ok, I don't always....

No, I don't always like to write. In fact, today I am really, really not having a good time. I am writing a chapter for a book I am doing with a colleague on the criminalization of immigration. My head has been out of the material for a while, I am struggling with finding my way into it. That is what happens when your teaching and scholarship are not connected; so few of us get to have them seamlessly integrated, if integrated at all. That is also what happens when you have too many interests, but that is my personal curse, and a subject, perhaps for another time.

So, I am reading. Reading a few passages, a few pages, and then back to the writing, trying to get some words down, trying to slog through it. A few hours later, I have a few hundred words; its not that good, but it is down.

It is moments like this that I have to trust myself, just myself enough to know that this will get done, that it will be fine, and that I will somehow survive the boredom that I am experiencing. It is part of the "the life." It is not always fun, but what job is always fun?

I now return to the grind.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Exercise time: Sentence length

No, not push ups or sit ups.

And while we are not going to concern ourselves with lean muscle mass, I do want us to consider lean sentence structures. Too often, academics write sentences that are too long and too complex. Sentence which are too long are often confusing, hard to follow, and boring. They do not lead to greater understanding, but instead, obscure. Complex sentences should never be confused with important ideas.

Start with an article or something you are working on. Take a rough passage, perhaps a paragraph or two. When reading it through, consider sentence length. See if you can take what you have written and create some good lean, short sentences.  Seek to reduce sentence length for the passage.  Come back in a day or two, and read it again.

Learn anything?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I was speaking to a colleague about her writing recently. She began to to discuss her various limitations as a scholar. I told her that I did not see most of those, and only really saw one.


How is it that complexity, she asked, is a limitation?

So, I provided two metaphors.

I mentioned that when one writes a Haiku, while there may be many metaphorical and larger issues, there is not enough "space" for the poem to be about a Rock, Tree, and a River. Usually, one is the focus.

It was pointed out to me that I was missing something about the essential complexity of the Haiku, and was prompted to find something from my own cultural tradition.


Take matzo ball soup I said. Matzo ball soup broth is always a very simple chicken stock, salty, delicious, yet simple. The focus is on the delicate and lovely matzo balls. You would never find them in a complex broth, which would hide the delicacy of their doughy goodness.

Get the metaphor? If not, ask!!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Guest Post on Rituals

 I wrote this as a guest post on the fun and informative blog, Guidance For Writers Who Struggle to Get Started some times ago, and thought I would post it here as well. Do go to the above mentioned blog-there are some really good tips about handling procrastinating.

One of the principles of writing productivity that most writers, writing coaches, mentors, and researchers believe in is the power of daily writing. Simple statements such as, “writers write” typify this sentiment. Yet, in spite of having this knowledge, many writers and aspiring writers struggle with achieving the consistency of daily writing.  There are many tools that have been suggested for helping achieve the practice of daily writing, from starting each day with writing, ending each day with writing, or putting writing into your calendar and making it an appointment with yourself. For some, these work; for others, they may not make a significant difference.
Part of the reason for this is that these scheduling methods do not change anything about you. What you need is a method that helps make you need to write, and creates a negative internal consequence when you do not. In other words, you need your writing to take on the hallmarks of an addiction.
Do I mean that writing should make your life spin horribly out of control? Of course not. You need to make your writing into a positive addition, or a habituated behavior that is supported by environmental, psychological, and biological stimuli. When you engage in a positive addiction, you experience a sense of meaning. When you do not, you feel a sense of loss, and may actually experience biochemical changes, just like with a less positive addiction.
Sounds complex and time consuming perhaps, but its not difficult. One of the most powerful principles in addiction treatment is that rituals often support people's compulsive behavior, and can be used in creating behavioral change. 

What you need is to create behavioral rituals that support a dependence on writing. With drug addiction, or behavioral addictions like gambling, rituals set into motion powerful biopsychosocial triggers that compel one toward a substance or behavior. This is why creating rituals for yourself, simple habituated, routinized behaviors that you do prior to writing, can help you achieve the consistency you need.
Writing rituals do not have to be elaborate and involved, but simple actions that signify that writing is about to occur. Sitting in the same chair, placing the same blanket over you legs, turning off your phone (a must), and sipping on the same kind of tea is an example of a ritual that one can engage in. Done over time, these behavioral cues trigger the “readiness” to act, and create a movement toward action that almost has a compulsive quality. 
If you are skeptical,  devise a simple ritual for yourself prior to writing. Do it each day for two weeks, and see if you cannot make writing your positive addiction.