As a writer, I battle with procrastination, always have. At times I also find it strangely hard to revise my work. But in graduate school I hit upon a way of using my procrastination to produce nearly final copy the first time. The “method” was suggested to me by reading the Autobiography of Bertrand Russell.
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Summer vacation can be a great time for academic writers to get ahead on their writing projects, but all too often professors and graduate students find themselves scrambling to get something—anything—finished as summer comes to a close, and wondering how the summer slipped away from them.
Authors need to understand the process by which their manuscript will be evaluated and take that into account when they submit. If a smart recent college graduate can’t decode what your book is about, you’re in trouble.
When I graduated from college I hoped to land a job working on a dude ranch in Wyoming. Instead, I fell into a career in scholarly publishing, acquiring books for Oxford University Presses. I realize now that as an editor I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to the prose. I cared more about the ideas than about how well they were expressed, at least that’s what I told myself. It wasn’t true.
When I first went back to graduate school in creative writing, after a lifetime in the publishing ‘hood, I told my friends that if they ever heard me use “workshop” as a verb, they should shoot me.
But now, with one foot in the academic world and the other in the muck of teaching creative writing, I think the writers’ workshop is an appropriate model for academics who want to make their manuscripts better. Creative writers have been “workshopping” each other’s stuff for a long time. The workshop model can lead to tears, to bruised egos, and, occasionally, to black eyes. But the right group can produce better work.
When I finally got around to writing my dissertation (that’s another story), I realized that its organization easily fell into several relatively self-contained chapters. Once I defended, I needed to convert as much of the dissertation to publishable articles as I could, for the “hound of tenure” was fast on my heels.
I realized that I had written each chapter with a possible article based on it already in mind. In philosophy one often takes on positions articulated by others, and seeks to attack them in a way that makes one’s own view more plausible and defended against those who would, or should, attack it. So, I “carved” the dissertation into three chunks and wrote them up as independent articles. I sent them to the same journals that had published the articles I was attacking, and they were accepted (usually subject to some revisions). Hence, my first three publications, followed by a fourth when one of my attackees sought to defend himself in print. Those, plus a couple of short pieces, secured a tenured appointment.