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?