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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers July 2009

vol. 5, no. 6

Stop getting ready to write.

I would be a thousand-aire if I had a dollar for every person who told me that he or she was going to write after tidying their house, office, desktop, or files, but confessed later that he or she had neither cleaned nor written. What’s going on people?

Do you get ready to watch TV? Do you have to clean your house to drive your car? Does your desk have to be organized before you open your email or Facebook? Writing is not something you do when you are ready. Writing is something you do regardless.

Iris Murdock wrote in a house so filthy there was mildew growing on the books piled on each step of the staircase. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn used rosary beads of chewed bread as a pneumonic for the 12,000 lines he wrote in prison since any writing on paper would be confiscated. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but it is not next to productivity.

If you actually do regularly clean and then write, go for it. But if you have noticed that you rarely get around to writing, stop using cleaning or getting organized as an excuse. Just do it. (This broadcast of the emergency mean lecture system has now been completed.)

Double Publication Jeopardy

On the listserv for editors of peer-reviewed journals, they recently discussed what to do if they found out that parts of a accepted but not yet published essay had already been in print before. Journal editors want to publish original material and do not like to find out, after the fact, that a journal article is not original.

In the main case under discussion, the author had said nothing about previous publication in the cover letter, but the peer reviewer got suspicious. The editor then found out that about half of the sentences in the article come from the second half of a paper in a conference volume. The other half of the paper had been published in another journal. While the submitted article had been significantly expanded with original material, the editor felt this was still an ethical violation.

The editor’s subsequent actions are a cautionary tale for authors. The editor informed the author’s department chair of the problem and rescinded acceptance of the essay. I relate this story as some do not know that double publication is considered wrong or are cavalier about the costs.

What’s the lesson? As I point out in my book, conference proceedings are not great places to publish. Always work to get your work into peer-reviewed journals. Also, always inform an editor in an advance query email or the cover letter if the article has any overlap with an article published anywhere else (whether electronically or in print). This editor, informed in advance of the overlap, would most likely have accepted the submission. But the editor’s valuable time was wasted in identifying the problem and feeling duped, so the author paid the price of ignoring the rules.

News from the Editor

I’ve been working on finalizing a book and matters have been going both quicker and slower than I had hoped. I’m not sure how that is possible, but it is! Meanwhile, my Ethiopian colleague has arrived to catalog the many Ethiopic manuscripts in the Princeton Library (which has the largest collection of such manuscripts in North America) and will be here for the next month. I’m looking forward to getting to know the manuscripts better as well. Then, the other evening I went for a walk beside the cloistered canals, which are canopied in green foliage, watching the tinkerbell fireflies blink on. It went from bright sun to tropical shower to rainbow sunset over the lake in the space of an hour. Summer is gorgeous here!