Saturday, October 03, 2009

60 Days of Scholarly Journal Article Writing -- Day 12

For background on the 60 Days of Journal Article Writing, please click here.

Okay, for every triumph there must be a corresponding writing crisis, or at least that seems to be the pattern of my life. Remember the article that was "writing itself"? Hah! Famous last words. I'm suddenly a bundle of insecurities about it, and starting to question everything (the decision to change from the interdisciplinary project, the suitability of this one to the journals I love, my worthiness to breathe the same air as the scholars I admire).

The only comfort I take is that struggling is more appealing than smug, so running into problems now could potentially be endearing. If writing this paper was simply a matter of "typing it up" (to quote author David Gewanter from a really funny anecdote I may later relate), then what would be the point of having Booklab or thinking together or uniting faculty in the shared cause of Writing (and Publishing) A Lot?

Wendy Belcher's book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks is still brilliant, and I trust it. This struggle is normal. Besides, it's only the start of Week 3. There's time! There's time! I'll sleep on it and write more about the sorta-crisis tomorrow.

Thank goodness for the structure of the book.

Friday, October 02, 2009

60 Days of Scholarly Journal Article Writing -- Day 11

For background on the 60 Days of Journal Article Writing, please click here.

This is the start of Week 3 in the workbook Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks . Week 3 contains a great deal of detail in the teaching section, so much so that I'm going to spread it out over a week instead of trying to read it all at once. Author Wendy Belcher analyzes the main reasons why journal articles are rejected -- she should know, since she edited a journal for 11 years. She then discusses how to make arguments substantive enough to warrant inclusion in a journal, and also where/how to place arguments within both the paper and the abstract.

I'm still ecstatic about this book.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

30 Days of Return to the Journal Experiments

The literary journal experiments went on hiatus while I dealt with the influx of new faculty scholarly authors to Georgetown's Office of Scholarly and Literary Publications. But we have one fiction group, and I promised to write with the group for all of October -- 30 glorious days -- even though I'm also working on a scholarly article with the Articles-Only group. Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks is going so wonderfully that it makes sense to take on a new thing now that the old thing is well on its way.

This means structure, dates, deadlines, goals. For October 'tis thus: produce a piece for The Georgia Review to submit by October 23. Why that date? Because October 31 is the deadline for a call for submissions, and I want to send it one week early. That will mean devoting a special hour each day for 23 days to this one creative writing task.


1. Although I'm typically more of a morning scholarly writer, I choose evenings for this writing, from 8-9 p.m. If that time is filled because of an evening event, I will spend a quiet hour before leaving for said event, or a quiet later-night hour after coming home.

2. Even though I don't know what to write, I will trust that coming to the page will yield something. Much of this theory comes from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way that several of the fiction group are reading and working through together.

3. No matter what happens, I will keep this commitment every day, and I will submit something, however poor and miserable, on the 23rd. This is writing as bricklaying, writing as plumbing, writing as a regular-person job. Artists take commissions all the time, and this is my commission.

4. To prepare myself for this I will read back issues of The Georgia Review and blog about them. This office is also a subscriber, but knowing a literary magazine well is a good way to submit to it successfully.

5. We're all in this together. I'm writing with them and they're writing with me. Teamwork.

The image above, of an albino peacock, is a hint of what the call for submissions is about.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Leech lover

I have an internet problem, I admit it. But I don't have to accept it, and this week thanks to a suggestion from a faculty author I looked into software to tame the web. The author suggested Freedom, but it is only for Macs. Then I read about Leechblock, downloaded it for Firefox, and got busy setting it up to block certain sites after certain lengths of time.

This article by Farhad Manjoo of the The New York Times is illuminating and also a little nauseating -- he's right when he says of RescueTime, "[it] keeps track of everything that happens on your computer, and then reports your habits in a series of charts and graphs. I found the software’s analysis tremendously illuminating. I learned, for instance, that during a typical month I spend more than 70 hours surfing the Web, much of it on news and social-networking sites. By comparison, I spend only about half as much time in Microsoft Word, which, as a writer, is where I do my work. Seeing these stats knocked me over; clearly, I wasn’t using my time very wisely."

Me either.

And so far so good with Leechblock, but I'll post an update later.

William Morris literary agent Eric Lupfer at Booklab

Eric Lupfer of the William Morris Agency will be my guest for a Georgetown University faculty book talk at noon on October 15. If you are a Georgetown faculty member and would like to attend for lunch, chat and a Q&A, by all means let us know by sending e-mail at the right or contacting me in person.

If you are not a faculty member but would still like to attend, non-faculty can participate in all Booklab offerings on an academic/course fee basis. Please contact us for more details!

Want to know what an editor thinks? Ask an editor.

Some authors spend a lot of energy trying to guess what editors want. They think about it, read books about it, ask their mentors, and ask one another. The people they tend not to ask, however, are the editors themselves, often out of a misplaced sense of propriety.

Here are some typical misconceptions:

* That you only get one chance to query an editor about your book. Not true! You asked a simple question, you didn't key someone's car or threaten their families. You can certainly ask again in the future, especially if you have significantly re-thought your project.

* That you are "out" at a press for future books if they turn down one of your pitches now. Again, nonsense! Most editors won't even remember who you are if it never got past the inquiry stage.

* That it is easier to publish at a lower-tier house than at a higher one. Actually, the opposite is sometimes true. There are exceptions, and prestige is a relative thing depending on your field and the standards for promotion at your institution, but many editors at higher-tier houses report frustration that they sometimes never even see certain projects because of erroneous author assumptions about how unapproachable those editors must be.

* That you have to hold your mouth exactly just so and submit one particular way versus another or they'll never look at it. In reality, any good editor is happy to consider a good pitch, however it arrives. Some of them don't even know what's on the publishing house website about the "rules" of submission. Most are fine with an e-mailed inquiry, and 85% of the editors I speak to want to use e-mail for everything... most don't want paper at all, although a minority still do. The ones who do will tell you after you inquire.

The bottom line is to let editors decide what editors want, and the only way to do that is to ask them. Learn to write amazingly effective, to-the-point inquiry letters that say succinctly what you're working on, how you think it fits with their stated list/press/vision, and why you're the perfect person to write this now. Then get those letters out there, to editors you admire and would like to work with. The less you second-guess editors and the more you give them the opportunity to think for themselves about your research and whether it will work for them, the better.

Oh-so-true illustration from that old internet classic, i can has cheezburger.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

60 Days of Scholarly Journal Article Writing -- Day 10

For background on the 60 Days of Journal Article Writing, please click here.

It's the end of Week 2, and I'm so happy that I'm probably boring all of the faculty book writing groups with joy. Working with the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks has yielded a miracle: The Article That Writes Itself.

As background, I began this semester planning to write a different article, but the workbook and feedback from the articles group convinced me not to do it, at least not yet. The article was based on a conference paper I gave at Notre Dame some years ago, and although it succeeded as a paper on a panel, the project was deeply interdisciplinary. Author Wendy Belcher's brilliant workbook helped me figure this out before I invested weeks in research and writing, however. Instead, I was able to see that now is not the time; after I've published a few articles I can re-consider it, from a stronger basis of having established myself as a scholar in that field.

Instead, I turned to an old cliché from the business world by going for "low-hanging fruit" -- reaching for a topic I understand well (it comes from the book I'm writing), and exploring it in more detail in a journal article. This is a perfect balance, because the level of detail required for the article would be ridiculous in a book -- it wouldn't even make sense in a long footnote -- but it is perfect for scholarly consideration in a self-contained published piece. I have the joy of running down these long, twisty alleyways of scholarly research, but without being pulled off of the main task of writing the book. The two projects nurture one another, yet they are not the same, i.e. the article does not incorporate much content from the book and anyone would consider them substantively different.

There is also a negative meaning to low-hanging fruit... the sense that such projects can be easy, obvious, and in many cases somewhat overripe and past their prime. Tenure committees are good at seeing through these sorts of c.v.-padding ploys. This is a potential problem, but also one that Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks addresses with its exhaustive list of projects in which one out not to get bogged down, or that may be considered too low-value for tenure and promotion. I've made certain that my article is potentially of high academic value.

Therefore I'm thinking of low-hanging fruit in the positive sense: this project is a natural outgrowth of my research, and it will help other scholars. It is interesting, it's arguably important, and because I know the subject so well it does feel as though it is writing itself. I'm working hard at it, but the labor is such a pleasure because thanks to author Wendy Belcher, I know and understand my daily writing tasks. The Articles-Only Group meets on Thursday, and I'm ready to greet it with the kind of scholarly excitement I haven't felt in many years.

I'm a little ahead on the blogging front with this book, so I'll post again after the Articles-Only group meets on Thursday.

Such compelling excuses

Some members of the scholarly book groups and the article group are starting to e-mail in with excuses (I have trained them please not to phone). From scheduling to grading to general mayhem, a small percentage of Booklab authors are letting life sweep writing out of the way. We've had engaging discussions about how scholarly writing and publishing is as important as teaching (not more important, not less). It's different, though, because teaching always happens. No excuses. Faculty show up for every class period unless something has been prearranged with ample advance notice.

So question: if you don't show up for your book group, what will happen? Answer: nothing. The group will sail on. Its members will publish (we are publishing -- it's a miracle to observe!). Only you will know what's happening in your own world, on your own c.v. But if you are always there for your students, year in, year out, then it is also possible to make certain that you are always there for your scholarly writing. We've already proven your time at the page need not be long or burdensome. Curious about this? Then send e-mail for more information.

(The above photo depicts teaching in Healy Hall, one of my favorite venues. I have taught many a class there.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

60 Days of Scholarly Journal Article Writing -- Day 9

For background on the 60 Days of Journal Article Writing, please click here.

After working through the exercises in Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks and getting up to this point, I realized that I needed to change projects. The beauty of this book, however, is that it brings this sort of crisis point at the beginning of the writing process, not at the end after you've already done so much work. The key problem with my original article idea -- based on that old conference paper -- was its interdisciplinarity. That's fine at a conference where work is as much entertaining as it is informative, and you can cross boundaries without fear of being called out for not being an expert in the second field. But journals demand more, and for a 12-week project I just didn't have the serious scholarly background in either music or medicine necessary to publish the article I originally planned.

Instead, I broke the "rules" slightly by launching a new piece, albeit one based on a section of my book that is also underway. This is going much better, partly because I'm already immersed in the necessary literature because of the work for the book, and also because it is 100% on my home turf academically. I don't have to stretch into a new field or two. This feels entirely natural, and the research has been such a joy that I don't mind writing something fresh for the 12-week project. As I continue to blog this book there may be snags, but right now I can see my way through the next ten weeks, and it feels great.

The picture above offers a large hint as to what I'm writing about.