I wanted to thank the "group of 12" who participated in our two day workshop. The passion you all brought toward developing new skills was inspiring. I look forward to a productive summer together. Make sure to use your collective word count spreadsheet and support each other in our Canvas work space. Can't wait to see what articles comes out of our work together.
Recently, I was asked to present to a small writing group on "writing a book." I was given very little other guidance. At first, this felt a bit daunting; how could I talk about writing a book in less than half an hour, without any focus?
As with many such tasks, it is best to take such invitations as an opportunity for values clarification; what is important to me about writing books?
And as with many such tasks, it is fun to try to break them down into a nice little bow for easy teaching.
So, I came up with, the "the Five Ms" of book writing: Motive, Meaning, Motivation, Market, Manageable.
Motive- What do you want to accomplish with your book? A job? Tenure? Promotion? Getting a clear sense of your motives for wanting to write a book will help you begin to think through if it is even a good idea to do so. After all, a book takes a lot more time than an article, and three articles, which might still be only 1/5 the length of a book, might be "worth" a lot more in your discipline (or might not).
Meaning- What will the book mean to you? Will it help you view yourself as a more senior scholar? Will it provide a sense of closure to a project? Will it signify your expertise in an area? Will the writing of a book be something that will provide meaning to your life, on a day to day basis (the writing of it, not the completion).
Motivation- Do you have the motivation to follow through with this? Be honest with yourself. What supports and resources do you need to help you stay motivated. Books are for the long haul- you need to make sure to have your daily rituals in place and your accountability structures.
Market- Is there a demand for your book? Who will read it? Academics? Will it be for the educated general public? For classes? Do you have a contract? Many people overestimate the interest in their work. I think it is usually best to have a contract in hand before you are too far into your text (unless, it is based on your dissertation, e.g. already mostly written). What happens if you write too much and your dream publisher wants major changes? Oh, and speaking of market, if it is for classes, make sure your proposal includes which courses around the country (world perhaps) might use your book. Be specific; do a good web search.
Manageable- Can you pull this off? Do you have the time, resources, skills, knowledge? Be honest with yourself. Again, you may need to develop some new skills to insure that you are able to write your book!
Of course, there is a great deal more to consider; but perhaps this can help you begin to reflect on some of the key issues pertaining to writing a book.
How many times have you said to yourself (or someone else), "That is something I am going to write this summer!"
And here is summer, and now what?
Are you well into that writing project that you promised yourself you would do?
If not, what concrete action can you take to get there, today!
If you don't know, talk it over with a friend, colleague, mentor, or coach. Time to come out of the private, restful slumber and silence of summer, and make your intentions public. Post them here, if you wish, but don't let another summer pass you by!!
Of course, we hope that in life our strength and our desires align. That which we are good at, in an ideal world, are things we enjoy. Yet, for some academics this is not always the case. There are time when we may have a set of strengths and competencies which make is good at a role that does not make us feel fulfilled.
This was the case for me and administrative work (although, I know some of my detractors would say that I perhaps am overestimating my skills!!). Regardless, I had to be true to myself that it was role that I did not enjoy, and and that if I let go of the role, a space for something else would occur.
It takes courage to admit what you do no wish to do, and courage to cultivate a new set of capacities, perhaps even turning former limitations into assets.
Courage, but what are the potential costs of not doing so?
Someone recently asked me what percentage of overcoming problems with writing are psychosocial. Of course, it depends upon the person. However, experience has shown me that it seems to average around 50% for many people (not sure for most, but for many I have worked with). Of course, this is just an estimate; its hard to quantify such things.
Working on your procrastination, anxiety, fear, stress, problems with rejection, fear of failure, immobilization, worries, and all the other cognitive/emotional/behavioral barriers that we possess helps us "get out of our own way" and allows our skills as scholars and writers to be accentuated (actualized?).
Yes, many people have technical issues, or just need to learn the rules of "the game." Yet taking care of your "playing field" (Self) can be valuable to nearly also of us.
Since I have not been blogging for some time, I never announced my newest book on writing. It was specifically written for international scholars who wish to write and publish in English peer-reviewed journals. It also provides my latest thinking on many of the issues covered in Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles, so should be relevant to all who wish to improve their scholarly productivity. We self published this intentionally, so we could do so electronically, and for a very reasonable price; this should make this material more accessible from scholars in the "global south and doctoral students.
I have written previously about how rituals help in the writing process. Rituals can help us enter a space that separates what was “non-writing” from “writing.” Our rituals can ground us, helps us to be psychologically and/or physically prepared for the hard work that is writing. Rituals help us to shape our environment, for example, turning on a certain light that is conducive to writing. Most writers have rituals, and many attribute some of their rituals to their success.
However, for some writers, rituals can become a hindrance to the writing process. There are two fundamental ways that rituals can impede our writing: over-reliance on rituals and over-ritualizing. In two-park extended post, I explore how each of these problems can negatively affect your writing, and encourage each writer to assess whether they suffer from one of these impediments.
Over- reliance on rituals occurs when writers depend so heavily on their rituals that they can only write under specific circumstances and under specific conditions. The writer who can only write in one specific chair, or only during one time of the day can hinder his or her own writing by limiting the conditions under which he or she may write. For instance, a writer who can has convinced herself that she can only write in her comfy chair at home prevents herself from being able to productively attend writers conferences or retreats and use these to their fullest. Similarly, such a writer may limit herself from using free moments when she is does not have easy access to her comfy chair.
Yet what is most problematic about over-relying on different rituals, be they physical or mental, is the belief that your writing depends on anything other than your own creativity and hard work. Successful writers need to develop self confidence in their capacity to generate work (not to be confused with confidence in the quality of their work, which is another issue all together).
In order to overcome this problem, give yourself writing assignments where you engage in small bits of writing outside of your comfort zone. If you normally write during the evening, write for five minutes at lunchtime. What you write is not important; what is important is that you break your routine. If you only write with sharpened pencils on yellow pads of paper, try writing with a pen, or typing a computer, or even using a hand-held tape recorder. While these may never become your preferred method of writing, it is valuable to expand your behavioral repertoire to increase your confidence. An added bonus is that we tend to think differently when we use different tools, and may actually develop some new ways of approaching a topic or issue.
A couple of days ago I explored the potential consequences of relying too heavily on your rituals. Today, we explore over-ritualizing. Over-ritualizing is a related, yet slightly different problem. Over-ritualizing is the development of a long list of rituals that take up far too much time. One aspiring writing described her prewriting ritual as consisting of taking a walk, making tea, having a cigarette, and a litany of other activities that she needs to prepare her to write. Once she ultimately sits down to write, she barely has enough time to produce any work!
While over-ritualizers may also overly depend on ritual, as discussed below, some merely use these activities as a way of avoiding writing. This can be something of a defense mechanism to shield one from the fear of failing. The logic goes something like this: “If I only had more time, I would be able to write. But since I don’t have enough time, and I am not writing, I have not really failed as a writer. I merely do not have enough time!” For many, it is easier to engage in long and exhaustive rituals than to risk failure. Over-ritualizers may need to do a combination of behavioral and psychological tasks to get themselves writing.
First, time your rituals. Next consciously cut the duration of your rituals in half. Try this for a while and see if it helps. If you find yourself looking for other means of procrastinating, you will then have to identify the underlying beliefs that lead to this procrastination. For example, you may find yourself judging and criticizing your writing, and find it preferable to avoid writing than face your inner critic. Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, has written many good self help books that can help you identify and challenge self defeating cognitions/ internal messages that block your writing. Overcoming Procrastination and How to Control Your Anxiety Before it Controls are excellent books by Ellis. Both of my books on writing also have chapters to help you with these problems. If you can’t do it through self-help; seek the help and support you need!
Please do not think I am saying that rituals are not helpful to the writing process. They most certainly can be. However, not all rituals are always helpful to all writers. I merely wish to alert you to a couple of the potential pitfalls of rituals, and to help you view them as not inherently helpful or harmful, but part of our toolboxes that must be assessed. Writers must continuously evaluate their methods and practices; this is especially true when we are not being as productive as we wish, or are going through a particular dry time.
In a response to a Guest Blog post on Passion by Greg Lamphear (well over a year ago now), one of my readers asked: "Is passion something that guides the process or is there a way to write passion into academic text? I would love to see an example." I have sat with this question for a long, long time. In part, I have been trying to think of a neat, simple answer to the question; one does not exist. Perhaps there is not only one response, as there is a lot to unpack here, so let me start today, and continue over the next few weeks. First, passion is what brings our scholarship to life (hopefully). We enter wanting to know, to learn, to explore; we enter our doctoral programs with passion, enthusiasm, and a great deal of energy. Yet, the process of doctoral education, and sometimes the climb through the ranks of tenure and promotion can make it hard to keep one's passion. Methods that may not be congruent with our topics. Chairs that push us in directions that we don't wish to go. Opportunities that sound too good to miss but lead us astray. This can especially true for people with "outside the box" interests that may not be appealing to "R1" universities and programs that want to bring in big grant money and fit into "the research machine". What people forget is that there are many kinds of universities, and many potential homes to wind up at. Being who you are, and going to a place that is a good fit, is not a failure. I am a big believer in following ones bliss; life is too short. More later.
If idea generation is hard for you, try spending some times randomly writing titles of articles. For a few days, walk around with your scholarly notebook; everyone should have one (yes, paper, how old school!!). At random points throughout the day, try to write down titles of articles that you wish somebody would write (why pressure yourself at this point to feel like you have to be the one to do it).
There are also tools that poets and other creative writers use for idea generation; these apply to you to!
Here is one.
Again, over the course of a few days, any time you see some "text" (i.e. a sign, a billboard, a book title, ect) see if you can write a riff of that text applying it to your scholarship/research. Of course, what you write may not be coherent or well formed. However, word games such as this can help stimulate ideas when you feel stuck.
I frequently hear faculty talk about their "projects." Having a lot of projects is fine, but do you have one article at all times that you are focusing on? Having too many projects can be the same thing has having none. Try to always have one article that you are working several times a week; having that be your core task will help insure you are productive.
Well, how many times have I wrote that I want to restart my blog and be consistent? I am starting to remind myself of my clients; all the self promises that seem to mean little and add up to shame, demoralization, and frustration. Well, perhaps the stakes for a full professor writing a blog are a wee bit lower than a junior scholar needing to publish for tenure! And in truth, I am only a bit annoyed at myself. Still, my reflecting upon my lack of follow through with this "space" gives me some insight into what others experience. Let me promise nothing, but just share this!