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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers April 2009

vol. 5, no. 4

In the early 1990s, a graduate student specializing in nineteenth-century British and American literature embarked on her dissertation about the impact of gender on narrative strategies. As part of her research, she read one hundred women’s romance novels and one hundred men’s adventure novels. She found the romance novels so interesting that she decided to focus on them entirely in her dissertation. As she began writing, she further found that she was less interested in writing about romance novels than in actually writing them. She abandoned her PhD and wrote her first romance novel. Unfortunately, no one wanted to publish it. She kept writing, however, and was able to sell successive romance novels, having modest success. Ten years after she wrote that first novel, she rewrote it and it became her first New York Times bestseller. Many consider Bet Me an exemplar of the form and Jennifer Crusie is now a millionaire many times over.

So, little grasshoppers, what do we learn by her example? Many true lessons. Some have to do with writing. For instance, reading in your area is the best way to become a better writer. And, rewriting is always the path to real success. Other lessons have to do with life. For instance, the skills you learn as a doctoral candidate can lead to fame and fortune. And, many an ABD has been successful. Perhaps the most important lesson, however, is that if you want to finish your dissertation, make sure your topic is not too interesting!

I first learned about Crusie’s story in the anecdotal Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive.

And You Think I Had a Long Title

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest book title is Italian, with 290 words, published by Davide Ciliberti in July 2007: Per favore dite a mia madre che faccio il pubblicitario lei pensa che sono un pierre e che quindi regalo manciate di free entry e consumazioni gratis a chi mi pare, rido coi vips, i calciatori le veline e le giornaliste, leggo Novella e mi fotografano i paparazzi, entro neI privé saltando la coda, bevo senza pagare, sono ghiotto di tartine e gin tonic, ho la casa piena di oggetti di design, conosco Paris Hilton, Tom Ford ed Emilio. Which translates as Please tell my mother that I'm an advertising agent since she thinks that I am in public relations and therefore distribute loads of free tickets and free drinks to whomever I want; that I laugh with the VIPS, the football players, the models and the journalists; that I read gossip magazines and paparazzi take my picture; that I enter private clubs by jumping the queues; that I drink without paying, eat canapés with gin and tonic; that my house is full of designer furniture; and that I know Paris Hilton, Tom Ford and Emilio.

Big Brother Is Watching You

A Flourish reader checked out the website for Rescuetime, which I recommended in the last newsletter, and she expressed some concerns about it being designed for workplace surveillance. And, indeed, the site is promoted as a way for managers to track their employees’ use of time. But the reader decided to try it out anyway and she found the site useful in keeping track of how she spent her time. A great feature, she felt, was that the program graphs the time she spends answering email right next to the time she spends writing in Microsoft Word. She felt the program motivated her by giving her the visual goal of wanting to make the writing bar in the graph bigger than the email answering bar. “It hasn't yet transformed my writing process, but I think it has potential to become a very useful tool.”

Open Belcher Workshop

Readers have often asked me when I would hold a writing workshop that anyone could attend and I finally have an answer: June 6. In the past, my workshops have been for institutions, who have limited enrollment to those they select, but this one is through UCLA Extension and is open to the public. Anyone can enroll in Publishing Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles, although UCLA does charge for it. My book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks gives you more information than a one-day workshop can, but if you are trying to get inspired or are interested in meeting others working on getting published, the workshop could be helpful. I will use part of the time to help people with similar disciplinary or research interests meet and perhaps start writing or support groups. To register, go to the course website at UCLA Extension.

News from the Editor

Thank goodness it is finally spring! In a week I will be going to present at the African Literature Association conference. Since it is one of the most interesting academic conferences around, I’m taking three of my undergraduates with me, which should be fun. Meanwhile, this term I have been working on an anthology of early African literature and found it the perfect project to conduct while teaching. Since it involves tracking down examples and then writing little introductions to each, it is easy to pursue in snatches of time. Also, it’s terrific coming across yet another example I didn’t know about. The only problem with the project is that I’m finding so much African writing before the twentieth century that the project may take awhile.