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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers October-November 2008

vol. 4, no. 7

Everyone has anxiety dreams—dreams where you appear naked in front of a classroom or realize that you never filed your dissertation. What happens when your anxiety dreams come true? Sometimes, it works out for the best.

Last year, a junior scholar was to present her work at a conference in the country where she conducts her research. A number of big names were attending and she spent some time crafting her paper. On the plane she read it through several times, ensuring that she didn’t stumble over any words and making last minute changes. When she got to the conference, she was still debating some points in the paper, but decided to attend some other sessions before presenting her paper in the afternoon.

She was looking for a panel when the conference organizers stopped her in the hallway and handed her a forty-page paper. It turned out that the keynote speaker, the most famous scholar in her field, suddenly could not attend and she had been appointed to read his paper. The organizers did not ask her if she was ready or willing—the absent scholar was American, she studied in the United States, that was enough for them to simply hand over the paper, tell her she was to present it in two hours, and be off to the next crisis.

In a daze, she opened the paper and realized that it was in English, a language few in this country spoke. In fact, it was not her own native language. Then she realized that it was far too long for the time allotted. She was still trying to figure out what to do when she entered the assigned room and realized, to her surprise, that the audience was huge, around 250 people. Then the conference organizers whispered that she should be sure to look up at the television camera occasionally, since the conference was being broadcast nationally. Live. Few anxiety dreams could compete with the reality of this!

Standing at the podium, looking out over the audience of many non-academics, she made a decision that still surprises her. She announced that she was not going to be reading the paper, since it was in English, but that she would give a summary of its contents in the national language. She intended to speak for only a few minutes, but she remembered more of the paper than she had expected and the audience was listening closely, so she ended up speaking for about twenty minutes. She then had the surreal experience of being asked questions about a paper she had not written.

When it was over, she was so relieved, presenting her own paper at her small panel before a small audience seemed easy and it went well. Then, at the evening’s entertainment, several people approached her and said that her summary of the scholar’s work had been the first time they had understood it!

So, what is the moral of the story? Sometimes experiencing the worst that can happen helps us to overcome our anxieties. Embrace the catastrophe.

Conference Repeats

Did you know that some fields consider it deceitful to present the same conference paper twice? Scott Jaschik’s May 20, 2008, article in Inside Higher Education on Double Dipping in Conference Papers addresses the increasingly common practice of presenting the same paper at multiple conferences. In the past, senior faculty were often warned against doing such. Indeed, according to one study of political scientists’ vitas, Jaschick reports, no one presented the same paper more than once before 1992. But by the 2000s, it was “fairly common” and now most graduate students are not aware that anyone considers it a problem. In some disciplines it has never been a problem; for instance, in literature. Regardless of field, however, you must list the papers on your curriculum vitae with the same title so that it is clear that it is the same paper and you may not present a paper after it has been published.

Note Avoidance

A Flourish reader send in the following quote from Geoff Dyer's book Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence which is really about not writing a study of D. H. Lawrence: I even built up an impressive stack of notes with Lawrence vaguely in mind but these notes, it is obvious to me now, actually served not to prepare for and facilitate the writing of a book about Lawrence but to defer and postpone doing so. There is nothing unusual about this. All over the world people are taking notes as a way of postponing, putting off and standing in for.

Writing Services

Some issues back I asked for information about Dr. Gina Hiatt’s Academic Ladder, which provides a variety of paid services to help scholars get on with writing. Several of her clients wrote back to say that they had found it helpful and she has been getting some good press lately: an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education featured her service. She also published an excellent post in Rick Reis’s Tomorrow’s Professor titled “Ten Ways of Thinking that Lead to Writing Procrastination—and Rebuttals to Those Thoughts.”

News from the Editor

I’ve gone through copyediting and the proof process on Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Now I’m waiting to see how the cover turns out. I really like an iconic cover that Sage has with a life preserver on it for their book Surviving Your Dissertation so I’m hoping that I get something as good. Meanwhile, it is my first fall on the East Coast in many years and the colors are spectacular here in rural New Jersey.

I have migrated the list from the UCLA listserv to the Princeton listserv; I hope you have no problem receiving it.