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Flourish April 2005

vol. 1, no. 3

This month I was reminded of the importance of sharing your writing. The week before I had to present at a conference, I shared the paper with two scholarly friends and I'm glad I did!

The first friend told me that my anxieties about the paper not being theoretical enough were unfounded and that if I kept trying to “theory it up” I was just going to ruin it. She also recommended a place where I could cut since I was over the page limit (I was at twelve pages and ten double-spaced pages equals twenty minutes, the usual conference paper maximum). The second friend gently pointed out that the stated topic of the piece seemed to keep disappearing and should be returned to more often.

As I made the changes they recommended, I was struck by how obvious these problems were and how difficult it would have been for me to see them without their help. Perhaps if I had spent another several weeks I would have found them, but it would have been much more agonizing. Instead, because of them, I reduced both my labor and my anxiety levels. When my paper was well received, I silently thanked them in my head. So, if you haven't shared any of your writing recently, think about it! It works.

I so appreciate everyone getting into the spirit of things and sending along quotes and stories! Keep them coming! And thanks to the 300 of you who have subscribed! Feel free to spread the word.

Stories from the Writing Life

At a dinner party hosted by a fellow writer, I met an engineer who had published eight hundred articles. His publication list, in ten-point type, was thirty-two pages long.

“Eight hundred articles!” I exclaimed. I had never met someone who had published so much, although I knew that engineers tended to publish much more than those in other disciplines. “You've got to tell me,” I said, “what is the secret of your success?”

He replied with a smile, “You know, I have one.”

I waited with bated breath and he said, smiling, “Beyond the scope of this article.”

“What?” I said.

“I do a little research, I do a little typing, when I run through what I know and am up against something I don't, I simply write that such and such is ‘beyond the scope of this article,' and I'm done. I print it out and send it off.”

This may not seem like genius at first blush, but it is. He has learned that extraordinary skill of knowing when enough is enough. For you must stop and let go of your work if it is ever to be published. This is the secret of his tremendous productivity: stopping.

Quote Unquote

Fortunately for academics everywhere, the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Graduate Students (DSMGS-1) has been published, “the first book ever dedicated specifically to disorders of those pursuing advanced degrees promises relief to this long-suffering population.” An excerpt from the section on Terminal Graduate Paralysis (TGP):

Early signs are typically mild and therefore easily overlooked or ignored. These often include a subtle shift in media-consumption habits, from National Public Radio to South Park , and from professional journals to extreme-makeover television. More serious symptoms include compulsive retitling of the dissertation; a pathological overinvestment of time in TA-ing; a tendency to misplace routinely or otherwise lose or obliterate thousands of hours of work as a result of alleged computer failures (clinicians investigating these mishaps frequently find suspiciously mutilated hard drives). Advanced symptoms include substantially impaired performance on all cognitive tasks; hyperanxiety and night sweats; bibliophobia; comma-shifting mania; and a marked adviser-avoidance response. At its most extreme, sufferers display a deer-in-the-headlights appearance; epistemological aphasia (the conviction that one no longer knows anything); morbid feelings of lack of self-worth often accompanied by paranoiac delusions of victimization; a deepening of syntactic torpidity (the loss of the ability to write, clearly, simple, and, ultimately, at all); a resurgence of teenage acne; even renewed thumb-sucking and bed-wetting. Failure to File (F2F) represents a particularly heartbreaking and dimly understood, form of TGP, in which the sufferer mysteriously disappears on the eve of filing the completed dissertation, or otherwise inexplicably decides to “tighten” the argument …

From Douglas, Lawrence, and Alexander George. 2004. “Advanced Symptoms of Advanced Degrees.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 51, no. 26 (March 4). See also the authors' great new book Sense and Nonsensibility: Lampoons of Learning and Literature (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). Selling for only $10 on-line!

Readers Write In

Lynn Itagaki, who started a tenure-track position at the University of Montana last fall, managed to finish her dissertation this January despite all the stresses of a first job. One of the tricks she used when she was starting her dissertation was setting a kitchen timer. "I set it for twenty minutes later and promised myself that I would write for twenty minutes. If I drifted off to do strange but necessary things like playing computer solitaire, I was loudly reminded to get back on track for another stab at twenty minutes. I just kept doing it for however long I had allotted for writing that day. Over time, it was like running or any form of exercise: with each block of time I set up, I got better and better at focusing for twenty minutes. And I got a lot of writing done. It's also a good way to sucker yourself into doing something you consider painful, like starting with a blank page or editing a paper or expanding a lot of unfocused ideas."

News from the Editor

I'm doing a lot of traveling this month, including a trip to Malawi to present two week-long writing workshops to social science faculty from Norway and around southern Africa. One workshop is for faculty writing the academic article, the other is for authors producing chapters in the same textbook. This opportunity comes to me through a student who took my academic article workshop at UCLA years ago. Thanks Elin!

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