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Writing under duress (or, Writing 2020!)

Books by Janet SalmonsOn one hand, with social isolation and no distractions from travel, concerts, theatre, or friends, it has been a productive year. I’ve completed three short books, and two more are in press. Writing has given me focus and kept me busy. (Alas, no sourdough…) On the other hand, it has been extraordinarily difficult.

My writing practice is centered on books and blogs. This year I discovered a big difference—besides the obvious one of length.

When I write a blog post for TAA’s Abstract or SAGE MethodSpace, I expect it will be read now. I can write about topics of current relevance, in the context of the present moment. When I write books, I know they won’t be read for at least a year, while manuscripts go through the editing and production process. This kind of writing is inherently future-oriented. Today’s blog post will be supplanted by the next ones, and it will scroll into the archives, but the book I complete today might be read for a number of years.

Under normal circumstances this all makes sense. But 2020 was not normal. On MethodSpace, we’ve tried to provide resources germane to the issues our readers have been facing, such as guidance about moving instruction and research online. But what about the books I am writing? What will students and novice researchers need to know by the time the book is published? What kinds of social problems and phenomena will they be studying? What will they need from this text? In a broader sense, what will happen with higher education, after this year of devastating budget cuts and disruption?

As academic writers we are accustomed to challenges—not enough time or too many distractions. But we can usually turn to each other to learn new skills. No one can answer the questions we have right now. No one knows what the new normal will be!

I certainly don’t have the answers. Nevertheless, here are a few strategies I am using in books I am writing now, even though I can’t anticipate the future readers will be experiencing.

  • More exercises designed for experiential learning, so they can apply key ideas, whatever the circumstances.
  • More skill-building, team and group activities that can be completed online.
  • More reflective questions, so readers can think about how to address the problems they face.
  • More links to resources that I can update as circumstances unfold.
  • More emphasis on the need for application, making a contribution, looking beyond the ivory tower.

Let’s hope that 2021 is a better year, and that the vaccine will mean doors re-open. In the meantime, be well, and keep writing!

Janet SalmonsJanet Salmons is an independent scholar and writer through Vision2Lead. She is the Methods Guru for SAGE Publications blog community, Methodspace, and the author of six textbooks. Current books are the forthcoming Learning to Collaborate, Collaborating to Learn from Stylus, and Doing Qualitative Research Online (2016) from SAGE.