Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers November 2006

vol. 2, no. 11

The world is not divided into winners and losers. It is divided unevenly between those who persist despite their own failures and those who don't. Whatever you think your failure has been this past week–not writing well enough, not writing fast enough, not writing at all–it is your ability to get past those failures that makes you a writer. Not talent, not speed, not hours, but persistence. So, repeat after me, "I am a writer and I write." Then prove it.

Tricks for the Busy

As many of you know, I recommend writing daily, even when you are very busy. Just a few minutes spent on your article or book keeps the material on the front burner, cooking, rather than in the deep freeze, getting petrified. But it is easy to get distracted by teaching and family demands. What to do? One of the Norwegian political scientists I recently worked with came up with an excellent idea. When he sits down at his computer, the first thing he does is open the electronic file of the article he is working on. Then he doesn't close it until he is turning off the computer. This makes working on the article frictionless. He finds that he will click over from reading his email to add a sentence he just thought of or he will get off the phone with a colleague to include a citation. If your problem is that many days you cannot get to your computer, try carrying around a print out of your article. If you always have it with you, once a day you can use some of your time on the bus, while stuck in line, or waiting for a friend to review and revise. If you have a trick for writing daily, let me know!

Readers Write in with Answers

Linda McPhee, another person who specializes in holding academic writing workshops for scholars, wrote in regarding last month's tip about printing out essays when you lose the thread:

Another nice trick for organizing things once you've printed out a draft is to use colored markers for different themes. You can draw a colored line down the left margin every time a particular topic is mentioned and then read all the “yellow” sentences together (for example) to see whether the story is coherent or whether anything needs to be moved, added, or subtracted. Then read all the red parts together, and then all the green, and so on. Also, you can check how you're moving through the colors and whether or not a pattern is developing (for instance, most of the yellow together or yellow-green-red). Does that have any implications? Finally, of course, if some sections have no colors, why they are there? Do you need to add a color (for instance, for background information) or delete those sentences?

Readers Write in with Questions

Flourish reader Epifania Amoo-Adare wrote in asking about whether anyone knew of a postdoc chat room or virtual postdoc writing support group. If you do, please let me know so I can post it. If anyone is interested in trying to start one with Epifania, please email the Flourish editor to be forwarded to her.

Tomorrow's Professor Newsletter

Richard Reis, the author of the best-selling book Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering, has a desktop faculty development newsletter that goes out twice a week to over 25,000 subscribers. Sponsored by the Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning, it addresses various aspects of being an academic and frequently reprints interesting items from relevant blogs, books, and discussion lists. Last week he kindly reprinted the journal rejection issue of Flourish in his newsletter. You can read previous postings on Tomorrow's Professor Blog. Anyone can subscribe to the Tomorrows-Professor Mailing List.

News from the Editor

I just returned from holding workshops at the University of Virginia. UVA is ahead of its time in having a full professional development program for faculty and graduate students. The Teaching Resource Center, led by Professor Marva Barnett for over fifteen years now, has expanded to include writing activities, providing not only writing workshops and peer writing groups but also funding for faculty to hire writing coaches and editors. I wish every university had such a center! They invited me to hold two one-day workshops on getting published in peer-reviewed journals and it was an interesting experience for me since I usually work with those in the humanities and social sciences, not those in the sciences. Yet several scientists asked to participate and we had some good discussions about the differences among the disciplines and the challenges that all writers face.