Flourish July 2005

vol. 1, no. 5

It seems to be a truth commonly accepted in academic circles that summer is infinite. One may travel for weeks, get up at noon and watch day-time TV, have a succession of visitors who all insist on going to the local theme park, and perfect one's downward dog, and that's all doable because summer is a big block of time and you can get everything done. So, let me suggest something shocking: summer is not infinite. I'm not trying to panic you, but there are only so many Mondays until the fall term begins. For some of us that's fourteen Mondays, for others it is already down to seven or eight. As of last week, the hours of daylight have been getting shorter. If you are going to use this summer wisely, you cannot think of it as a big block of time in which writing will somehow get done. You must have a plan. If you haven't been writing much, start small. Start with fifteen minutes a day. Whatever you do, don't wait. It won't always be easy, but the longer you keep at it, the easier it will become. Writing in regular sessions of moderate length works. Waiting until September won't.

Stories from the Writing Life

“A rabbit is sunning himself outside his house when a fox comes along and tells him that he is going to eat him for lunch. The rabbit explains, rather smugly, that the fox cannot eat him because he is working on his dissertation, the subject of which is the superiority of rabbits over foxes and wolves. The fox laughs, but the rabbit persuades him to come into his house and examine his dissertation with the understanding that if the fox did not agree that the title was correct, he could eat the rabbit for lunch. The fox follows the rabbit into the house and never emerges.

“A few hours later, the rabbit is out sunning himself again when a wolf comes by. The above scene repeats itself with the same result.

“Later in the afternoon the rabbit is outside again when a squirrel comes by and comments on the satisfied look on the rabbit's face. The rabbit explains that he is indeed satisfied because he has just completed his dissertation on the superiority of rabbits over foxes and wolves. The squirrel is skeptical, but agrees to follow the rabbit into his house to examine his dissertation.

“In the house is a computer on which appears the completed dissertation. On the floor on one side of the room are the bones of a fox. On the other side, the bones of a wolf. In the corner sits a lion.

“The rabbit smiles and says to the squirrel, ‘You know, it doesn't really matter what your research topic is, as long as you have the right advisor.'”

Anonymous message on the internet, cited in Richard M. Reis,Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering (New York: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., 1997), 118-19.

Exercising the Writing Muscle

One of the best things you can do for your writing is to commit to spending an afternoon a week (or a month) at the library reading the journals in your field. Not only will it keep you up-to-date on the research and enable you to have more interesting (impressive?) conversations with those in your field, but it can improve your writing for publication. Many swear by this policy. If you need a task, you can examine the first paragraphs of four articles in journals you admire. See if you can identify how those first paragraphs are working. That is, how are the authors presenting their content? What do they start with? How much information are you the reader given? If you walked away after reading nothing but the first paragraph, what would you know about the article? Think carefully about how the authors are approaching their audiences and what that means for how you could better approach yours.

News from the Editor

It's been a busy month here, getting ready to teach the ten-week workshop at UCLA to graduate students in the humanities and social sciences. I always try to use the month before class starts to write another section of The Graduate Student and Junior Faculty Guide to Writing the Academic Article: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Sending Your Paper to a Journal in Twelve Weeks. On the recommendations of some of those who used the workbook last summer, I broke up the long first chapter and have added a daily task list for each week. I also worked on the literature review chapter. I now have a good three-quarters of the book done, which is great. Now, on to other writing projects!