5 Suggestions for writing outside of your discipline
My own work has taken me far afield from my study of law. I’ve delved into feminist theory, critical race theory, rhetorical theory, literary studies, urban planning, and more. I’ve always found that the most interesting texts — textbooks, journals, book reviews — are those that are written in an interdisciplinary fashion. Maybe that’s my liberal arts education coming through, but there’s something about reading a law text with history examples, or an article on communication theory that pulls in political science, or even a sociology selection that combines medicine and health sciences literature that is simply more interesting. Students, professionals, and other scholars likely appreciate the interconnectedness of our interests as well. In order to keep people questioning and pondering, encourage broader discussion of relevant issues, and develop an increasingly interested and literate public, we must be able to do more than write inside our comfort zone.
Here are five suggestions to make the process of writing outside your discipline easier:
1. Remember your major or majors in college! Many of us studied vastly different things than we find ourselves pursuing today. Those early classes and degrees can be a source of enrichment for writing in your current discipline. I think of all those colleagues, professors, and scholars that I’ve come across and many of them are writing or teaching in areas they never imagined they’d be in when they first started school. Who says that a communication studies professor cannot rely on his B.S. in international relations? Why would a biology professor ignore her double major in anthropology and spanish? Is it wrong for an engineering instructor to pursue her true passion, English? What about an English professor who relies on her M.F.A for inspiration more than her Ph.D. in postmodern studies?
2. Consult your friends and colleagues. I went to law school and I know many folks who write, teach, and practice law. But, I know people who are interested in religion, international relations, food science, forensics, and many other disciplines. These friends and colleagues can help me explore new areas that interest me, they can challenge a set of assumptions with which I work, and they can also open the doors for later collaboration. Most of us have colleagues in our our office, department, or Outlook address book that share a passion for the scholarly. Start thinking about how those contacts might help you.
3. Read anything different. Sometimes we get trapped reading the same materials over and over. Maybe you’re a Wall Street Journal junkie or is it Political Science Quarterly? Perhaps the Harvard BlackLetter Law Review is your favorite bedtime reading or maybe it’s the Journal of the American Chemical Society? I hate to say it, but even the Washington Post can get boring. Expand what you read and you’ll expand the connections you make amongst the many ideas floating around you. Sometimes I find it’s a novel or an article in Smithsonian that inspires me to pursue a new topic of socio-legal scholarship and not what I read in the latest blast email from the American Bar Association. You’ll be surprised at how much you pick up looking at material outside of your normal scholarly pursuits.
4. Talk to your students and kids. Throughout much of my experience in higher education, I’ve worked as a competitive debate coach (at both the high school and college level). I owe an invaluable amount of inspiration to the debaters I’ve coached. They’ve tested me, encouraged me to think differently, and taught me about everything from new music styles to new books. Life can get stale. Routines start to ruin the day and we’re left with little more than a desire to write and no desire to get started. Sometimes it takes the youthful excitement of a scholar-to-be to really invigorate our creative energies.
5. Start writing. William Faulkner made stream of consciousness writing chic. More than that, he turned it into a literary style many have imitated, but few have successfully replicated. He changed literature. Wu-Tang Clan, the enigmatic ever-changing rap mega-group, pioneered stream of consciousness rap, bringing it to the attention of many music aficionados who had not really given hip-hop a chance as more than bass and vulgar lyrics. But, Wu-Tang changed things by bringing in a new lyrical style, unique production, and often complex subject matter. If you just start writing about anything and everything, saving the editing for later in the day or week, you’re likely to come across much material that you choose to expound upon, much that you do not even understand, and at least some that takes you on wonderful asides that liven up your writing and bring boat loads of new examples, interesting counterpoints, and colorful footnoting to your audience — all of which make writing fun and interesting to read.
Go ahead and take the leap, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Nick J. Sciullo writes on race/class/gender issues. He’s currently developing an article discussing the story of Atlantis and its impact on democratic theory. When he’s not working in government affairs or writing cultural and legal theory, he’s a political consultant. Visit his website at www.NickJSciulloConsulting.com