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.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

200 words now!

It has been while, so time to drop and give me 200. Stop what you are doing, and write two hundred words on an article you are working on, or do some writing for a new piece.

Stopping like this from time to time, and randomly writing, is a great way to get more work done than we might otherwise have.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

More on Google Site

Some time ago I noted how central Google Site (formally Google Docs)has become to much of my work. In truth, it is really not about Google Docs, but about the potential of collaborative, document sharing platforms in general. While I hear that some are even better than Google Site, It has served me well and I have yet to explore other platforms.
So, why am I such a fan of using these collaborative tools? They help me engage collaborators in new ways.

This format allows me to invite several people as potential collaborators. I invite people who I have worked with in the past who I know are good collaborators, students who might help, and often a colleague or two whom I would love to collaborate with. I invite these people into the document once I have a few thoughts about the direction that i want the article to take (if I am indeed at that point yet), and ask if they are willing to participate. I say, in this introduction, that the authorship of the article will not be decided until we are further into the process, and that it will depend upon contribution, not “status.” Or, if it is an article that I really want to be first author of, i say this, and then say that authorship after me is open.
 Of course, this does not fit with standard models of scholarly collaboration, where the rules of the game favor those with rank and power.  In these collaborations, I try to engage people in more egalitarian relationships, where authorship is about work and contribution. 

Think about what this does. It allows people who are really motivated to power through, get things done, and know they will be rewarded. It also allows people who only contribute a bit to do so, guilt free, knowing that their contribution will not be judged- they just will be at the end of the authorship line.
Does this always work? No, it does not. It is not for those with huge egos, huge agendas, and huge trust issues. It is great for those who need to publish, and publish fast and love working with others. If you have a good team of people, and you all agree that you will work until it is done, and then move onto the next idea (or, you might have several articles happening at the same time, like we do), than this might be for you.
If you are the first author, you can set the guidelines before hand if you really need something out the door. Colleagues and can say yes, or no. Give this a try-its a ton of fun, and I always learn a great deal from the process.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Career development prompt

No matter the phase of our career, it is always important to be conscious of "where we are," and to be mindful of the gaps between what we wish for, and what is.

Write for ten minutes on these two prompts.

The focus of my career now is:

The focus of my career should be:

Note any discrepancies, and think about how you may bridge the gaps.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

So much to know, so much to learn

Even people who know a great deal about the publication process sometimes have things to learn. I found an interview on line with the editor of the journal, The Washington Quarterly. In it, the editor states that most policy oriented journals are not peer reviewed- his is not. He claims that most policy journals are reviewed only by an editorial staff.

Well, this is just untrue. The vast majority of policy journals are indeed peer-reviewer. Mind you, The Washington Quarterly is a very good journal, and in the interview the editor provides some sounds advice for scholars who wish to publish in the journal. This wee bit of misinformation, however, does suggest the need to carefully think through what we know about writing and publishing.

In spite of this, do take a read. He encourages diverse scholars to publish in the journal- this is a good thing. Do be aware though, that he does discuss how quality is not the only factor involved in what they publish- something to carefully think through. It is also important to decide if you wish to publish in a non-peer reviewed journal.

Here is the Interview

Monday, January 21, 2013

MLK day

Happy Martin Luther King day to all! In thinking about writing today, I thought about what today means to me: liberation, liberation that still need to occur, both internal and external. Justice and injustice. Freedom and slavery.

Today, is about paradoxes, about a painful history and hope.

And so what does this have to do with writing?

Well, I am glad you asked.  In my role as writing coach, it seems that I am often witness to such complex human paradoxes.

Someone starts an article, and is both thrilled with the start and also reminded about their inertia, their wasted time, and the consequences of not being successful if they don't publish.

Someone else finished their article, sent it off, and is then crushed by a fairly critical revise and resubmit the very same day.

Writing, if nothing else, is a journey. A journey in which we engage our whole selves- the light, the dark, the whole and the broken.

My wish for each of you today is that you embrace all, as a friend of mine said recently, the humanity of you.

And after that? See if you can't get a good few hundred words under your belt!

Happy MLK day to all of you. May this coming year be filled with social and personal liberation, and a whole lot of writing.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Random, Cool Journal

Surfing the web (not while writing, of course), I found this interesting journal that I thought I would share.

Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal

Here is what the homepage says:

Welcome to Soundings

A wide-ranging interdisciplinary journal focused primarily on the humanities and social sciences,Soundings is published quarterly by the University of Tennessee and theSociety for Values in Higher Education.

"Seek simplicity and distrust it"

Soundings encourages scholars to challenge the fragmentation of modern intellectual life and to turn the best and most rigorous deliverances of the several academic disciplines towards the sterner discipline of a common good in human affairs. Soundings aims to publish essays that open the disciplines to each other, and it looks for readers who sense in such openings some prospect for a greater coherence and amplitude in public discourse.
However, our century shows that there are worse things than a fragmented life, chief among them the disguised violence of false unity and false coherence. Soundings urges upon its authors and readers a happy regard for Whitehead's advice: "Seek simplicity and distrust it."

Explore the journal, and see if you think of anything interesting to write about. You don't have to submit here, but just considering and thinking about journals can help us generate new ideas.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mid career writing blues

When you are untenured, perhaps a doctoral student, on the tenure track, or a non-tenure track lecturer, you might assume that anyone who gets tenure has it easy, and has it made.

And while there is some truth (a great deal really) that tenure makes our lives more stable and less anxiety ridden, there are many pitfalls for mid-career faculty.

Mid-career professionals no longer "must" publish to survive. Without this external push there are often no clear models for how to construct identities as scholars. Also, there is often a great deal of guilt that comes with the territory: "who am I to feel bad, I have tenure!"

The task of the mid-career professor is to  discover who you wish to become as a professor, and what this vision means to you. You have the burden of choice and freedom; one of the key existential struggles of humans liberated from "want."

Try to do some writing, perhaps in your academic journal, on what kind of scholar you wish to be. What do you want to do with your career- it is yours.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Great Editor

From time to time, most of us need an editor. And not just any editor, but someone who will deeply respect our work, and give us the type of service we need and deserve.

So, toward that aim, I want to introduce to you Greg Lamphear.  Greg is a trusted colleague, co-author, and friend. We just finished writing a book together, Writing and Publishing in English: A Guide for English as Second Language and International Scholars

Greg is an outstanding editor; in truth, he is the only one that I trust enough to recommend to the people I coach. Let me tell you why. First, Greg has the perfect background for this kind of work. He is an award winning journalist, and also is an ESL teacher. He is also an extremely talented writer (although, he is fairly shy about it- don't say I told you!) of fiction. This combination makes him highly skilled, and also sensitive to the needs of authors. He is very good at what he does.

Second, Greg understands academics. People who I have referred to him have been extremely pleased with how respectful he is of their ideas, while still doing a great job at editing and improving their writing. That is a really hard balance to get, and he does it well. You can tell him the type and depth of the edit, and he will do it. Want a simple proofread- ask him. Want more developmental editing? He can do that tool.

Third, Greg is just a great guy to work with. I think you will find him kind and empathic- no need to every be embarrassed around him. 
The best way to contact him is via his

He has a new website up.    Not much on there yet, but it is in the process of being developed.

Remember- there is no shame in getting the support and help you need. The shame is in NOT getting your needs met, and not reaching your full potential as a scholar. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Shame Part 2

There is another type of shame; the same of believing that you "should have gotten this by now." It is amazing how often I have heard similar messages from scholars who are, frankly, smarter and better trained than I.

Do you relate to one of these?

"I should know how to write and publish by now"

"I should have finished this project by now"

"What is wrong with me that I can't write more quickly?"

"A smarter person would have been able to _______"

"Why do I need to feel stressed before I can write? What is wrong with me?"

These shame-based statements not only are painful, but are powerful inhibitors to writing productivity and success. They sap us of the energy and focus we need to achieve. They lead to anxiety, worry and depression.

Relate to these? Again, time for some work.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


A few days ago I wrote about stress. Before that, fear. An emotional, or perhaps better stated a cognitive/affective experience, that may hinder scholars even more, is shame. I am not sure exactly why this is so, but have noticed in my coaching practice how shame is often a powerful force in the lives of scholars. Regardless of its source, shame leads academics to feel as if they are not worthy- worthy of being part of the "club," worthy of being able to have voice, worthy about even taking the time to write.

If you resonate with this, it may be time for some candid self-evaluation and commitment to work through it. Do know, however, that you are not alone.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Policy Article

In the social and behavioral sciences nearly all of the topics that we study have public policy implications.  Even if you are not a policy researcher-perhaps your work is more applied, theoretical, or clinical- a great way to get "unstuck" and to think about your work in a new way is to write a policy article.

Policy work can connect to local, state, federal, or even transnational policies. The key is for you to think about the implications of your work within the framework of policy. This is what led colleagues and I to begin to do some work around the criminalization of immigration.

Today, do some free writing about the policy implications of your work. Also, do a search in google scholar on your topic, and add the words "law" and "policy" to your searches. See what you find.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


How much stress and pressure must we have to succeed? How much, and of what types, get in our way? It would be nice to have an easy answer to this question, but it is so personal. I hope to work on a model that explores this, but for now, I can say that each of us must explore our own expectations, our own internal machinations that push us toward success, and those that seem to inhibit us.

Perhaps some work for many of us in the new year.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

I wanted to wish all of you a healthy, productive and writing-filled 2013. May your writing this year transport you to places, internal and external, that you never dreamed possible.