I am participating in a 30-day challenge to reflectively write at least 150 words and then post online. Here goes!
I am going to let you in on a little secret. I’m writing an academic piece right now…and it’s really easy. That’s not something that is often said by me or in the circles I run. So, it has come as a bit surprise to be honest. I don’t know exactly what the difference is, but I have a good guess. I think there are at least three components:
- I don’t go back to work for a bit.
- I have text to start from, and I mean not just an outline, but developed text that has been tested on others.
- I am saying what I really want to say.
Let’s break this down (with the help of some 90s hits). I want to see if I can replicate this in the future, because I will probably not get this exact mix of components again.
Time Away from the Grind
I don’t go back to work for a bit. For the time being I am free from the planning and negotiations and deadlines and challenges and excitement (let’s be honest, it’s not all bad) of professoring. And it’s not just the winter break, but I will have another month or so after that! I don’t think I’ve experienced this kind of freedom from the looming next semester…ever. If I haven’t been a student, I have been teaching or dissertating (or all those at the same time) since I was a child. Ahead of me is a great expanse with only the projects I want to take up at the pace I want to keep.
So…how do I replicate this feeling in the future?
I have no idea. If you do, please comment.
Starting from Square Two (or Three Even)
I heard some great advice once to outline your manuscript and then assign each section a number of words. Get the sections down to where the words are in the low 100s. Then think of your writing in blocks. It is much easier to write 200 words on X or even 500 words on Y than face the whole. I typically use a version of this advice.
This time, however, I am adapting a recent plenary talk I gave at the Lifespan Writing Conference into a chapter. So, not only do I have a solid outline to work from, but I have text that I thoughtfully crafted for a high stakes talk. The chapter will differ from the talk, but I have whole lines of argument and chunks of the text that I can adapt or extend. I also wrote the text to be read (directly if needs be) and so it has an easy tone and flow. From there I can insert in citations and other text-appropriate phrasing, but the text is so much peppier and bold than the typical academic text I write for the page. And, I know how those lines of argument went over for my audience. I know what comments, questions, challenges, and references were mentioned in response to the talk.
This I can replicate.
I have been guilty of preparing slide decks with only some developed notes for conference presentations in the past, and those do help with preparing the outlines from which to write later. However, imagine if I had crafted the text with the same care I did this one. What a starter text that would be!
Saying What I Want, What I Really, Really Want
When I was preparing this talk I asked a mentor what advice he had for preparing a plenary, and he said to take the opportunity of being an invited speaker to say what you really want to say. Different from a conference talk or paper where there is an expectation that the listeners will not only be listening to your content, but also to your credibility, in this invited situation, you have that coming in.
I can’t tell you how freeing that advice was. Suddenly I was thinking about what I should have been all along: the young people with whom I worked, what their needs were, and what they had voiced and wished would be said…rather than proving the value of work and myself to the audience. And, as you could guess, that made for a better end result.
Yes, that’s where my attention should have been all along and should be in the future. So, I am determined to face all academic writing that I do from here on out from this angle. From there I’ll adapt the draft to meet genre expectations or journal conventions as needed. Not only is this an easier standpoint from which to write, it helps me stay a little more answerable (a la Patel) to the people who participated with me in the research and their learning that is represented in my writing.
Okay…back to it!
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