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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers August-September 2008

vol. 4, no. 6

Do you make to-do lists? If so, are there any specific tasks on your to-do list that will help you to achieve your long-term writing goals? By specific, I mean achievable tasks, not broad goals like “finish book.” A good exercise is to make your to-do list and then prioritize your tasks by asking which three will make the most difference. For most academics, one of those tasks will involve writing.

On the Importance of Not Revising

At a panel I was attending the other day, an editor told a story about an assistant professor who had trouble letting go of manuscripts. The professor had revised and revised and revised a scholarly book and still had trouble handing it over to the editor. Finally, the professor’s partner called the editor to announce that the professor would be arriving shortly at the press with the manuscript. To ensure that the professor made it all the way into the building and relinquished a tight grip on the envelope, two friends went along! Fortunately, the editor thought that the book was excellent and accepted it. Unfortunately, the professor was denied tenure, for lack of a published book. I’m not quite sure what the moral of the story is. On the one hand, perhaps writing a good book is more important than getting tenure. On the other hand, did the additional revising improve it so much that it was worth delaying? Perhaps the real moral of the story is that the publication of any book depends on the kindness of friends. Whatever the moral, it will always be true that an imperfect submitted manuscript will always have a better chance of publication than a perfectible manuscript languishing on your hard drive.

On the Importance of Not Writing

“Although I have written a fair amount, I have spent relatively little time at the typewriter. I would begin what eventually became a paper by talking to anyone who would listen about the topic I was going to write about … I learned what points I could get to follow one another logically, which ways of making a point people understood, and which ways caused confusion, what arguments were dead ends that were better not entered at all.” --Howard Becker, cited in Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or PhD, p. 221.

On the Importance of Not Beautifying

If your writing site is working against you, you might want to read an article on how to set up a home office that enables creativity: Amy Shearn shares her “Nine Tips for Establishing a Creative Space.” Of course, I find that really bright fluorescent lights, a peeling desk, mismatched bookshelves, and a boring view out the window are key. A purely peaceful, meditative place wouldn’t feel like a work environment to me. I would be too relaxed. And a beautiful view is intimidating--who wants to write prose that isn’t as spectacular as the view? Let your own writing be the most beautiful thing about the place where you work.

Announcements Regarding My Book

The Table of Contents for my forthcoming book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success is now available online. I am waiting to see the interior design of the book. Meanwhile, I am in discussions with UCLA Extension’s Writing Program about offering a one-day course in May 2009 based on my workshop and the book. Over the years, many have asked me how they can take my course, since usually it was open only to the students of a particular university. Now you have your chance and it will be an opportunity to see whether the hype was correct!

Announcements Regarding the Newsletter

Two small changes are coming regarding delivery of the newsletter. First, from now on it will arrive from my Princeton email address rather than an SBC address. As a result, you may need to check your junk mail to make sure the newsletter is not being junked since it goes to so many subscribers. Second, I am going to be migrating the list to Princeton’s Listserv. You most likely won’t notice this, but the web address for subscribing and unsubscribing will be changing.

Notes from the Editor

I’m getting settled into my new place and finding the countryside in New Jersey just as beautiful in the summer as its fans have claimed. So green! I have met quite a few of my new colleagues and found them down-to-earth and very kind. Several of the nicest have spent significant time in California, so there is some West Coast correlation there! Courses start up this week, so I am looking forward to not thinking about such East Coast peculiarities as dank basements, narrow staircases, and absent dishwashers.