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Flourish February 2005

vol. 1, no. 1

Welcome to the new Flourish newsletter! My intention in sending this is to inspire you to write more and to write better. Once a month you will see this brief newsletter in your inbox and I hope you will use it as an opportunity to do a gentle internal check. Have I been writing? Have I been thinking about publication? My recommendation is that whenever you get this newsletter, you write an email to yourself about where you are in terms of writing and what you want to do over the next month. Avoid hectoring yourself, just use this newsletter to keep your scholarly writing on the front burner instead of in the deep freeze.

Stories from the Writing Life

Every month I will send you a story about an academic writer’s struggles. The following is one of my favorites.

In the 1960s, an economist wrote an article on how the market operated when the seller, for instance, had more information than the buyer. His main example was used cars. He worked hard to make the article readable, gave it a fun title, and sent it off to the big journal in his field, American Economic Review. The editors wrote back that the article was interesting but, according to the economist’s own report, “trivial.” He then sent it to the Journal of Political Economy, who disagreed and stated that the article was too “general” to be published. He sent it to a third journal, the Review of Economic Studies, whose editors said that it was too “trivial” again. Finally, four years after he first sent the article out, he sent it to the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which, to his amazement, accepted it.

By then he was feeling pretty discouraged about the article and felt “lucky” that he had gotten it published anywhere. Over the years that it took to get it published, he abandoned the direction of the article, figuring it must not be worthwhile. Not long after it was published, however, one economist after another began to tell him that they had read it and found it useful.

Today that article, “The Market for ‘Lemons’: Quality, Uncertainty, and the Market Mechanism,” is one of the most cited papers to ever be published in any field. It has shaped the real world of insurance, markets, and law. The author, University of California, Berkeley professor George Akerlof, won the 2001 Nobel prize in economics for the work in that landmark article. Looking back, he says, “I still feel very lucky that it was published” since the article did not have the “usual solemnity” of economics papers and the topic inspired tremendous concern among economists.

Moral of the story? Just because an article is rejected—three times—does not mean it is bad. And, it may take thirty years for the Nobel committee to recognize your genius!

This story comes from a wonderful article, available in full on JSTOR, written by two graduate students: Joseph S. Gans, and George B. Shepherd, “How Are the Mighty Fallen: Rejected Classic Articles by Leading Economists,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 8, no. 1 (Winter1994): 165-179.

The authors have also written a book with full-length articles by famous economists on their experiences of peer review titled Rejected: Leading Economists Ponder the Publication Process (Arizona: Thomas Horton & Daughters, 1995).

Got a good story? Send it and I’ll post it.

Quote Unquote

On misunderstanding what makes for a strong literary essay:

“[When I was an undergraduate] I thought writing papers was having a succession of insights. I had no idea how to generate insights. I’d write a sentence and stare at the initials engraved in the wood of my study carrel, waiting for another insight to pounce on me. I didn’t know that papers presented arguments. (My husband, who went to the same college, says that he did know that papers presented arguments. He just didn’t know how to get one.) I tended to write appreciations.” Bonnie Friedmann, “Strange Alchemy: Hearing Past the Professor,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (September 10, 2004): B12-B14.

Got a good writing quote? Send it and I’ll post it.

Only Connect

This month, [deleted for web] is interested in setting up an online group for faculty writers. She would like to base the group on research by Robert Boice on time management (e.g., Professors as Writers). Please contact her directly at [deleted for web].

If you are interested in forming an electronic writing group, contact me and I will put you in contact with any others who reply.

News from the Editor

I was on fellowship at the Clark Library in Los Angeles this fall for my own writing and research on eighteenth-century Ethiopia and Ghana. Meanwhile, I have been developing a version for individuals of my ten-week academic writing workshop, so that anyone can take my workshop, not just those whose institutions invite me to lecture. (Since 1997, I have designed and taught a writing workshop at UCLA and around the world to help scholars get their writing into print. To learn more about these, see my website.)

Subscribing/Unsubscribing

Everyone is welcome to subscribe to this electronic newsletter! Just click here and fill out the form. If you want to unsubscribe, just go to the same website: [link to old UCLA listserv omitted; see the Writing Advice List instead].