Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers January 2010
vol. 6, no.1
Here we are in a new decade. Can you believe that the 1990s were ten years ago?! The passage of time makes me think of a Thich Nhat Hanh quote, "We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma ... but we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive" (1995, 6).
So, let the new year and new decade be a bell of mindfulness, reminding us to be in the moment, to be in our writing fully. This does not mean always feeling joyful; indeed, it means not separating ourselves from our feelings of anxiety, belatedness, frustration, dread. We need not cling to such feelings but we needn't reject them either. If we allow them, acknowledge them as our own, we can be calm in the midst of them. It is wanting to avoid suffering that gets us into knots regarding writing. We repress our negative feelings and then they manifest in procrastination. Better to sit down with those fears, ask questions of them, and work to understand them. Then we can be fully present, in the moment, in the writing.
A professional author on chess, Jeremy Silman, wrote the following to a discouraged friend. As a Flourish reader, that friend thought we must appreciate Silman's vivid articulation of the creative process: I've written so many books that it's almost painful to write more. During the prep time for the most recent one, I sat for weeks on end just staring in horror at [my notes] and at the floor, wondering how I would be able to do another. But I gutted through the acquisition of material phase. Then I began to write, and every word was like a drop of poison. It went down hard and burned badly. But, as the months dragged on, I suddenly found that the material I spasmodically created was great and that spurred me on to renewed energy. It's been two years and it's still in the making, but I'm sliding into home. A few months for final checks and changes, one more chapter, the foreword, proofing, cover design, typesetting, etc. etc. Then ... Finally ... BIRTH. The real creative process is one of horror and pain and self-doubt and disgust. Your problem is you expect a different experience, but the one you're getting is IT. However, would you rather do this or flip burgers? Pain or no pain, I'll stick with writing! When you flip a burger, some guy eats it, it takes him a bit closer to death, you create nothing worthwhile, and the world keeps spinning. Writing is far more painful but, when it's all said and done, you know that you've created a tiny bit of light.
So, you are writing along, citing various scholars in your chapter, when you notice that your writing is getting repetitive. "Gilligan states" ... "Butler argues" ... "de Beauvoir states" ... "Freidan argues." Wouldn't it be great if someone would design a list of verbs you could use to describe the work of others? Someone has! Martine Johnston at the University of Toronto put together a web page "Verb Sources for Referring to Sources." It's very helpful.
Thanks to you all, the workbook has sold over 5,400 copies! November 15, ten months after release, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success topped the 5,000 mark. Since many imagine that publishing a book will automatically make you rich, let me put this number in context. In the United States, books sell an average of 500 copies each. Publishers Weekly announced that 96 percent of books sold less than 1,000 copies in 2004. Only 2 percent sold more than 5,000 copies. Only 10 sold more than a million. So, here's to you! Thanks to all those who have sent kind words about the book, carefully compiled corrections, or assigned the books to classes and groups. It takes a virtual village to build and sell a useful book.
News from the Editor
For the holidays, I enjoyed visiting family in Seattle and Portland as well as friends in Philadelphia and New York. In a couple of weeks, I'm off to Alta, Norway, to teach my writing workshop. As others prepare to fly to Bermuda or Hawai'i, I am searching for my wool socks and wondering what it will mean not to see the sun for a week and only a bluish twilight for a couple of hours around noon. It will be an adventure!