Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Watch The Advice You Take

Sometimes, I read advice given to developing scholars and I just cringe. Not that everything that I say and write is gold, of course. Yet reading through some of my books on scholarly writing the other day, I came upon a few problematic passages. Here is one from Linda Becker and Pam Denicolo's "Publishing Journal Articles."
On page 11, the authors contend that "There are two distinct types of writers:those who enjoy mulling over an article for many months occasionally writing a paragraph or two and never feeling any pressure to complete it, and those who find this almost an unbearable, tedious and counter-productive approach. It is vital, at this early stage that you know which sort of writer you are."
There is a great deal in this paragraph that is problematic, but I just want to focus on one key aspect of it; I am sure you can find others (i.e. that there are only two types of writers, and both are positioned as somewhat problematic, dysfunctional sorts).
What is most concerning to me here is the essentialist nature of the advice. The authors confuse poor work habits and having not learned important lessons regarding scholarly productivity with a functional “type” of writer. Research suggests (see a good deal of Boice’s work) that frequent writers will outproduce binge writers. Boice’s research, and my experience with dozens of scholars also suggest that many of those who have only written episodically can indeed begin to develop new skills and habit that facilitate consistent writing productivity.
Essentialist thinking dooms one to “isness”- “this is the way I am, and I will always be this way.” Just because you have only written episodically in the past does not mean you cannot learn to write more consistently. Viewing yourself as a certain type of writer, one who “naturally” ruminates about articles for months before getting down to writing is not a very productive way of understanding who are you are a scholar. Frankly, such counsel and its internalization will insure the continuation of poor productivity habits.

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