Friday, November 20, 2009

Robert Boice does it again, this time with hypnosis

Anyone who works in scholarly publishing with faculty members will sooner or later probably encounter the work of Robert Boice. I've blogged about him before, because his research on how productive scholars publish is the very best in its field. Today I'm re-reading his book Advice For New Faculty Members, which ought to be republished as Thoughts for Anyone on Any Faculty at Any Level, because trust me, there are plenty of associate and full professors who also need to read this stuff.

Boice makes an interesting connection between people who are willing to tolerate ambiguity long enough to get through the prewriting stages, and those who are hypnotizable. Since I'm a huge fan of deep-relaxation hypnosis, I paid attention. Here's what Boice says: "People who display the most resistance to being hypnotized display obvious commonalities; they are most unwilling to go along with suggestions, to suspend suspicion and disbelief, to trust themselves and the hypnotist. These 'low-susceptibles' also struggle the most as writers. Why? They have not learned to trust general images and rough wordings that could be put on paper or screen in advance of formal writing. Instead they work cautiously, looking for perfect sentences to begin with, listening too soon to internal editors (those voices of authority figures who remind us of rigid rules and standards about writing), and doubting too readily" (125).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Duke University Press and Stanley Fish

A change of emphasis was a revelation

Today a faculty member shook her head in amazement. Her schedule was completely different and more productive now, thanks to one simple change. Formerly she had spent her in-office time planning classes, as many newer faculty members do before they have taught long enough to be able to rely on tried-and-true syllabuses and lesson plans from previous semesters. Then she would try to fit her scholarly writing in on the weekends, when she was also juggling family time, including helping her kids with their homework.

Another faculty member suggested a simple switch. By writing on the weekends, she may have been subconsciously telling herself that scholarly writing was less important than teaching, whereas we continually emphasize that they are of equal importance, and that it is never acceptable to push writing aside in favor of teaching during the academic semester. So the faculty member suggested that she begin working on her writing during the week, and move the class planning to the weekends, thereby making writing the senior partner in the relationship.

The change was miraculous. She kept exclaiming in the meeting today how remarkable it was to get more writing done during the week, and then think about her lesson plans on Sunday afternoons (she saves Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sunday mornings for her family). This switch moved her writing into a more prominent role, and because she got more done she wasn't going into the weekend with guilt about her work.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Modeling resilience

(Part 2 of 2) The 8 a.m. Tuesday faculty book group discussed modeling the perfect response to hearing "no" from an editor. After much back-and-forth, here is the final list that we agreed was probably best:

1. Accept the reader's report with a combination of gratitude and confidence -- gratitude that a fellow scholar took the time to respond to your work, even negatively, and confidence that your work is strong and that this is about words on a page, not your worth as a scholar or a human being.

2. Read the report carefully and think about what is on-point and what isn't. Be honest here, and be willing to hear the comments for what they are... learned opinions, and neither garbage nor gospel. This is a kind of careful, balanced listening that goes beyond a knee-jerk "Yeah, okay, I get it" and ventures into the realm of the deeply collegial.

3. Be sure to respond to the editor with consistent professionalism. Save any grumbling for your best friends over a glass of wine later. Thank your editor for soliciting the comments, and assure her or him that you are going to ponder them carefully. If the door is closed at the press to that particular work, leave with warmth and good wishes -- you may be back someday! If the door is still open to revise and resubmit, promise to do that promptly, and set a schedule that will work for both of you.

4. Immediately make a written plan for revising the work if necessary and going to another university press. Come see me for examples of written plans -- we have everything from formal, Franklin/Covey style, to models that work with Google calendar. Whatever you use, make sure it is a proven tool and get your plan down on paper with due dates and a deadline.

5. Be of good cheer. It is honorable to have tried ambitiously, whether or not you immediately succeed, and it is even more honorable to try again. People admire colleagues who fight the good fight, and who remain upbeat and academically productive no matter what. You will find yourself with unexpected friends, sometimes among the powerful who got where they are with a combination of perseverence and resilience. Join their number, and congratulate yourself that you did not emulate the herd by running, but you stood with the leaders.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ouch, but in a good way

(Part 1 of 2) I just received some tough feedback on a book. So herewith a response: criticism is a gift, and hard criticism is one of the greatest things any fellow scholar can do for you. A true professional's one and only response to negative feedback on work should be "Thank you," followed by a serious and thoughtful consideration of each of the critic's points. Sometimes critics are wrong (and we've seen that from time to time in Booklab from peer reviews), but sometimes they are absolutely on-point correct, and other times the truth is in the middle. It is imperative, however, for any serious scholar to get and read the criticism, and to recognize it for the blessing that it is.

Wendy Belcher tells an interesting story about a scholar whose article was ripped at a top journal. The scholar revised based on the valid points, and submitted to a second journal, where it was ripped again, albeit more gently. After that revision, the scholar went to a third journal of equally superb quality, where it was accepted, along with editorial comments that they rarely see a piece so strong on the first bounce.

Amen. Therefore I nod to all critics in gratitude, and I will revise immediately (no waiting) for the good of the book, for the benefit of my colleagues, and for my own personal sense of professionalism and academic integrity.

Wendy Belcher Knows Who We Are

Wow, this is great. JW from the Articles-Only group subscribed to Wendy Belcher's monthly e-mail newsletter (one that I somehow managed to miss even though I visited her website), and today she forwarded it to me. This blog is in there! Belcher found the 60 Days of Scholarly Journal Article Writing, and she wrote about it.

Soon we will migrate to the Georgetown University servers, and to celebrate I will offer up some prime real estate and make Belcher's website a permanent feature of the new links list, along with information. If you want to sign up for "Flourish," her free electronic newsletter for scholarly writers, go to and click on "newsletters" at the left. I'm going to do that now!

A list of back issues is here.