Monday, June 27, 2016

I am not a good scholar, I am not a bad scholar

The old Al Frankin/ Stuart Smalley skit. "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me."

You feel bad about yourself in some fundamental way. You judge your writing, your teaching, some essential aspects of your personality, or how productive you have (or have not) been.

The SNL skit parodies a frequently prescribed intervention for such thinking: positive affirmations.

And while positive affirmations are certainly better than negative self-appraisals, they are problematic in that the cognitive habit of rating oneself will perpetuate itself as an option: if you can rate yourself as excellent, good, or good enough, you can rate yourself as horrible, awful, and worthless.

The solution is learning to refuse to rate your essential worth. This is often hard for scholars; we have learned, during a lifetime spent in schools, to rate and evaluate everything we do, to compare ourselves to others at all times, in all ways.

"So, Rich, let me understand this," you say as you squirm in your chair (yes, setting up my own strawman fallacy here, bare with me).

"How am I going to improve as a writer and publish more if I accept myself myself totally," you challenge.

I am glad you asked :).

Engaging in radical self-acceptance does not mean that we don't work to improve, or develop our skills. When we learn to not rate ourselves, we tend to be less defensive about improving ourselves and improving our work. We learn to accept our flaws without feeling flawed.

If we develop a philosophy of total self acceptance, we can also more effectively stay in process and work on our craft as fully as we can. Since my work having flaws and not being perfect is just a part of life, and not suggestive of my worth, I can improve and grow without feeling bad about what I have yet to achieve. 

As one of my clients says, crazy talk Rich. This is crazy talk.

For the next few posts, I am going to explore this notion radical self acceptance in a bit more depth. It is really, really important.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Poetic Structures and Forms In Qualitative Research

Ever hit a random milestone that really means nothing for the quality of your life, but you are kind of tickled by it anyhow? Well, that is how I feel about my article, Poetic Structures and Forms in Qualitative Health Research,  now having been cited 100 times. Something about a triple digit citation count for some of my work that sometimes gets people raising a perplexed eyebrow or looking blankly at me while saying, in a somewhat disingenuous and surprised tone,  "that's cool."

Of course, nothing in my life has changed. I am not a better person/scholar because of it, but that said, I am not less of a person/scholar for not having been cited more frequently.

Hmmm. An idea for one of my next posts.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Five Accountability Methods

A simple list. Five tools, four of which I have explored before, with links to previous discussions. Summer is a good time to consider the role of accountability in your writing plans; you don't want to let it get away from you. I have plans for next week's posts, but perhaps I will explore each of these again soon.

1) Interactive accountability spreadsheet

2) Daily check ins 

3) Reward and consequences (huh, a search of my posts reveals nothing. I have work to do!!)

4) Intensive interaction and trickery

5) A demanding coach, one who you may "fear" a bit 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lawyer Wednesday: Great article on peer review and legal publishing

Here is a great article that explains peer-review and legal publishing in simple, jargon free way. It is a nice resource for lawyers and other non-academic professionals.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Written bunnies!!

Yesterday, I should have noted that in addition to the kitten and puppy options, you can reward yourself with cute bunny pictures too! Options, are good!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Written Puppies!!!??!!

I discovered something extremely important a few days ago.  The accountability tool,  Written Kitten has a puppy option! I now can write 100 words and be rewarded with a puppy image. I love puppies!

If you are struggling with daily writing, this is a simple reward mechanism you may want to try. I know, its simple, unsophisticated, and campy, but I know people that this has worked for.

And you can see cute puppies!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Flash nonfiction for father's day

For father's day I thought I would share one of the flash nonfiction shorts that I started a few years ago. I have finished about twenty of these over the last year. I just love writing them, painful that they may be. May this day be filled with joy and hope. Fathers, sons and daughters, this day is for you- may this stimulate reflection today.
Dead Friends
Reading Mark Doty’s Dog Years, I realize that some things I will never be able to write about without sounding like a sentimental, driveling, emotionally stunted idiot. Take my dead friends; they deserve the shrine of ink; I know I have, and will, fail them. Even now, writing about writing about them, I am stunted. I am nine years old, I have been punished by my father for hitting my sister; I did not hit my sister.
I look into the center of things, try positive thinking; of course you can, you are good enough, smart enough. Pass the sugar plum fairy a desert grown fig. Ok, take two. Focus on the image. Let the narrative do the work. Show, don’t tell. I play with the buttons on the toolbars. I listen to songs on YouTube from the years they died.
Gil, for instance, died in 2005 of cancer. I don’t even know the type. The image the doctors gave us was this: go inside his lungs, hurl around a bag of rice like you are playing pick-up sticks, watch it scatter. The rice were tumors, course. That is what the physician said- the grains of rice were tumors, of course. Gil died in 2005. That year was a musical wasteland; it was milk toast post-punk and Kelly Clarkson. I am sorry for that Gil.
Greg Bershad died in 1992, I think. Things were a bit better, minus the boy bands; you had Nirvana and The Beasty Boys. I did not even hear about Greg’s’ death until months later.  His number discontented, no surprise from the brilliant artist turned part time junky; I sent a postcard with my number. His mom called: thank God you wrote Rich, you’re the last one who did not know. He died with a needle in his arm.
It is 2011. I sit in my writing chair. My wife is cutting my daughter’s bangs. She must be sitting- she spent too much time out of her wheelchair today- there is no way she could be standing anymore. Tonight is our second snow of winter. When it snows in Tacoma, it destroys the rhythm of the machine.
I try to count the spokes of her wheelchair staring at me from the shadows. I think there are seven, but I keep forgetting from where I started. This happens to me often.
I digress. I digress so I do not fail. I have failed. I will fail. The snow mixes with rain now, three am; everyone turned into unconsciousness. What is sleep? The wasting of life? The rehearsal for eternity? A simulation of that void I so desperately wish to forget?
I search the web for their names. They died long before the craze. They never knew Facebook. Greg never even had an email address. There is one reference to Gil, an obituary: He lived in Chico and worked in organic gardening.  This is all that is left.
I knew I would fail. I walk into my daughter’s room. She breathes just like her mother. I knew I would fail. I sit in the corner, listen to her cacophony. It is all I will ever have.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Writing challenge: Write in your closet


You heard me. Today, I want you to take your laptop (if you have one, otherwise, paper) into your closet. You can turn on a light, but I want you to write for a half hour on your primary writing project, in your closet.

Why in the world would I do this to you?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Training this Week, Sorry!

In a training all week, so behind on my posts. Will write one for manana!!

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Danger of Outcome Goals

Within a week or so of each other, two posts using such dramatic words: Danger and Peril.


There are several systems of faculty support and accountability that, from my experience, rely far too heavily on outcomes goals. From my experience  focusing too much attention on outcomes goals and not enough on the daily processes of ones work life can create a profound mismatch between behavior and expectations, between goals and the means of achieving goals.

I really have no idea how long it is going to take me to write an article, or a section of an article. However, if I stay in the process and move it forward each and over day, using all of the tools at my disposal to insure maximum productivity, when an article gets done does not really matter. Saying that I one is going to do X amount of an article or do a section by X date often leads scholars to feel shame and demoralization if and when they don't meet that goal. Once they feel ashamed, they tend to retreat from the painful feeling and neglect their work until they recommit to a set of goals that, again, are divorced from the processes of daily work.

If you resonate with this, consider your daily processes and staying in the moment with your work. Paradoxically, it leads to far better outcomes.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Writing challenge: Ten Minute Busts

Your job today- write on your primary writing project for five, ten minute bursts.

Ten minutes, step away. Return. Five times. Go!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Give me two sentences, now!

Ok, here is quick challenge. As soon as you safely can, write two sentences on your primary writing. Just do it. No thinking, no explaining. Just do it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Writing Challenge for Lawyers

Simple challenge today. Spend five minutes writing from the following prompt. Don't think, just write.

I have a hard time writing when_______________.

After you have done this, leave it for a day. Come back to it. What do you need to do?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Challenge: Write When You Would Have Wasted....

A simple challenge today. Catch yourself about to waste time on an activity that does not nurture your life,  and write for 15 minutes instead. Write with no expectations; no internal demands. Just write. Feel good after for having done something meaningful for your life.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The March toward Full: Admin Positions and the Associate Professor

Academic administration for many is a form of service. Yes, for some people it is a calling, but for many of us, it is a role that we often step into (and out of) in order to be of service to our universities and/or professions.

This may be especially true for faculty in the professional disciplines, some of whom have administrative practice experience while working "in the field." This was true for me as a social worker, and is equally true for nursing, teacher ed, public health, business and many other scholars from the practice world.

For us, practice and service feels "natural." For many faculty in professional disciplines, the role of scholar is one that feels less than natural, less than normal, and is one in which people often did not get enough practical training for success. Academic writing can be challenging to many, and for some, downright painful. Too few scholars in all disciplines, but perhaps especially in the professional fields, receive training in writing productivity, process goal setting, and learn how to develop rituals to sustain them over the long haul. Too often, once the threat of tenure no longer looms, and one steps into an administrative position, writing is the first thing that goes.

This creates multiple dilemmas for associate professors, even those who wish to stay in administrative positions. Faculty and other administrators are frequently ambivalent about associate professors moving up the academic hierarchy (or staying in their positions), for some troubling reasons, but for some important practical and philosophical ones as well.

So, what this means, is that YOU, associate professor department chair/division head/ associate dean, ect, need to work on a scholarly plan which includes your developing the requisite skills for scholarly success. What it also means is that you need to make a decision to create some space, mental, metaphorical, and temporal, for dedication to your writing and scholarship.

If you are an associate professor/administrator and have not written for a while, try to do some freewriting on the following questions..

1) What do I truly wish to write about, if I were motivated to to do so?

2) What skills do I lack to be successful as a scholar?

3) What are my personal blocks and barriers to reentering writing?

4) What help and supports do I need?

Notice, I do not address the issue of time. I will address that in other post.

Unfortunately, there are no magic, easy answers here. You are going to have to slog through some rust and develop a new way of working. Mostly, however, you just need to start writing. And if you do the above, perhaps, it can serve as a start.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Writing Challenge: Moving Between The Modes of Writing

For this challenge, I want you to open your primary writing project. Randomly pick five places that still need work. Write one sentence in each area, and walk away from your computer. Pet the dog(s), wash the dishes, kiss your lover, hug your kids, or take a walk.  Whatever. Just, get your mind off of what you wrote for about a half hour, and get away from technology.

Now, go back to each sentence. Read it, turn off your mind, and write. Do not think, do.

After this, go to a few articles. Skim. Add more words and massage each section, conceptually. No editing.

What is this process? Freewrite. Literature. Analytical writing. Rinse. Repeat. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The March Toward Full: Your Issues and Questions

I am committed to writing a series of useful posts (hopefully useful, but posts nonetheless) for associate professors interested in going up for promotion to full professor. I really want to hear what your issues are, and have you provide me with some discussion points or questions.

So, bring em'. Feel free to post them here or email me!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Teaching and Pedagogy Articles and Journals

One of the biggest mistakes young scholars make is  to conflating "study" with "article." They believe that for every article they want to write, they must conduct a separate study and have new data. Clearly, one of the solutions to this is to consider the "story (ies)" that  your data tell, and consider the various stories it could tell. However, another solution is to consider the impact of your work on policy, theory, the issues of the day, and even teaching.

Most academics teach. It is why many of us entered doctoral programs, even many of us for whom scholarship is our primary focus. Still we teach, and writing for teaching and pedagogically oriented journals is a great way to both deepen our teaching, and publish. Of course, not every university or department values teaching focused articles, but they are valued by many.

Use that sophisticated academic research tool "google" and search for teaching journals. Use the key words: Journal of _________, Teaching and _________, Higher education and _______. In the blank, start with the broadest area of your "field" (i.e. science, humanities, ect), and keep narrowing your search until you find several journals. Look at their scope and aim. Peruse a few table on contends. Check out a few abstracts. See if you come up with some ideas for your own work.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Peril of Overwriting

I frequently write about the importance of freewriting and writing as a method of inquiry. This may lead to the impression that I believe in a free for all approach to article writing,  in which you write as much as you can and then find a way of cutting.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am a huge proponent of developing structures and disincline for articles in which you work your tail off to not cut. Freewriting in its purest form should not be done in an article, but as side work to stimulate thinking and draw connections between ideas.

Focused freewriting, for maximum efficiently, comes within the context of a clear structure and predetermined word length for each section of your article.

Two tools that I do not write much about (I don't want to give away ALL of my secrets away on this blog, after all), are how to develop powerful architectures that carry specific section lengths, and how to use various modes of writing when working on articles.

That said, endeavor to not overwrite. My experience is that most people overestimate their skill at cutting their work, if we are to look at their actual outcomes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lawyer Wednesday: The Internal Critic

From my experience, some attorneys have profoundly vicious and deeply internalized critical voices. In law school, your work is shot down, often harshly; you need to develop thick skin for the professional world, you are told. Some of you work in environments characterized by a state of discord at best, and outright hostility at worst. Under such conditions, it is normal to internalize these self-downing views of your work, often just outside of awareness, as you try to be tough and become impervious to them. Not so easy: it is normal (although not helpful) that some of these internal voices profoundly impact your ability to write efficiently.

In this blog, I have written a good deal about methods and techniques for reprogramming self-downing congnitions. Check out the posts starting here!

But before you start challenging these beliefs, you have to begin identifying them. This may entail a bit of self-reflection which may feel new, or may to some seem like a waste of valuable time. However, this is one of the best ways of beginning the process of quieting your internal critic, which is one of the most central aspects of what is referred to in the popular literature as "writer's block" (which really is a complex constellation of several psychosocial barriers).

Make a log of what you are telling yourself and what you believe about your writing, and about yourself while writing. If you are not in touch with these thoughts, ask yourself what you MIGHT be thinking. These are usually pretty accurate.

Identifying them is the first step. Check out the tools I wrote about last summer for some ideas on how to begin contending with your internal critic.