November 2023 PNP Roundup
This Month in Review
Greetings, dear readers! It is the end of November, which means it is time to share what I have read or listened to this month that I found interesting or useful!
If you have any upcoming events you would like to publicize, or if you have read or listened to media that might engage other PNP readers, please email me!
Here are some of my favorite media I’ve consumed over the past month on writing, productivity, and managing all the things. Some of this content is new, some of it is old, but all of it has kernels of wisdom for busy academic writers.
1. Here are the Publish Not Perish posts from the past month, in case you missed any:
2. The incomprable Anne Helen Petersen of wrote a great piece on burnout this month that may resonate with a lot of folks. She notes that while writing a book about burnout, she was actually burning herself out. She delves into how the incessant drive for productivity and meeting a yardstick that is constantly moving becomes so ingrained in our psyches that it takes so much effort to recondition ourselves. She writes,
I had been blaming myself for my own struggles within the system for so long, thinking it was a failure of spirit, of work ethic, of tenacity, whatever — every day I came with a new way I wasn’t doing enough and could do more. So writing about burnout in the way I did, essentially avoiding the self-help model entirely, gave me the permission structure to chill out, to take stock, and to stop trying so damn hard. At least for a second, a minute, a day.
I recommend reading the entire post because she explains how she reworked her mindset to resist the burnout culture.
I also found Kathryn Peterson's post on dealing with burnout to offer some useful practical tips.
3. I loved this podcast (listen or read the transcript here) from Leslie Wang at Your Words Unleashed on Harnessing the Power of Storytelling for academic books. As Wang points out, we frequently believe that in order for work to be "academic," we must avoid inserting ourselves into the project. We believe we cannot use storytelling as a tool in a dissertation or book because stories are frequently told in the first person. This, of course, is a misguided generalization about what should and should not be included in academic work.
Wang uses some insights from a journalist to show why storytelling can be so powerful:
I’ve been reading a book called The Science of Storytelling: Why Stories Make Us Human and How to Tell Them Better by journalist Will Store.
It discusses the scientific reasons why our brains rely on stories to make sense of the world.
Our brains are wired to be fascinated by other people, and by what they’re thinking and feeling.
At the same time, we’re not very good at actually predicting what other people are thinking and feeling.
And this becomes the source of both drama and comedy. It’s the source of stories.
The book talks about how our brains are always using stories to construct reality.
He writes, “the world we experience as out there is actually a reconstruction of reality that is built inside our heads. It’s an act of creation by the storytelling brain.” (p. 21)
Essentially, he’s saying that our brains are constantly telling us stories and that’s how we make sense of the world.
And if you’ve ever taken a sociology class, you understand that what we think of as reality is very much constructed.
We give meaning to certain things and then act upon those meanings to the point where they become reified as reality.
Wang goes on to give a vivid example from her book of using a story to draw her readers into the introduction of her project. As she explains,
You start with the story. And then you almost trick your audience into learning about theory, about history, about things that are much bigger.
4. Sage is sponsoring a free webinar on creating a research agenda and an academic brand on December 6th at 10 a.m. CST. Here’s their description of the event:
You are thinking about the problems and questions you want to study, but how can you make a plan that works? Who will you need as collaborators or as your support team? It can seem overwhelming! This webinar will focus on how to set priorities, make a long-range plan, and find others who can help you move forward. Hosted by Sage’s Janet Salmons and featuring a Q&A session with experienced guest speakers, the webinar will provide practical advice and key steps to help you move forward with confidence.
5. I frequently speak with academics who struggle to say no to opportunities or requests from colleagues. Part of the reason for this is that we do not know what constitutes "enough" work to achieve our objectives of obtaining a full-time job, advancing to the next promotional stage, or receiving our merit raise. As I have discussed before,
The institutions we labor for still benefit from our work and we often feel the need to “be a good team player” in the hopes that others will recognize our contributions or potential. On top of this, requirements for achieving tenure are notoriously opaque and the job market is not a meritocracy.
A lack of transparency, consistency, or equity in hiring and promotion leads us to do more and more work because we are unsure what it will actually take to achieve that goal of secure employment. This precarity drives the culture of overwork in the academy.
Because the academy always makes us feel like we need to do more to advance, we feel obligated to say yes to all requests from our institutions and to every opportunity.
According to Cathy Mazak, an academic coach and founder of the Scholar's Voice, in order to make decisions about these requests or opportunities, we must first align our own values and goals. She says,
This process involves thinking about your values (what is important to you), your academic mission (what you want to achieve), your audience (who do you serve) and yourself (what are your needs).
Once you have a clear understanding of these four cornerstones of your academic career, ask yourself these three simple questions when evaluating various projects and opportunities you want to engage with:
Does it align with my values and my mission?
Does it align with my audience?
Does it align with my needs?
Going through this process might mean that sometimes, your answer to these questions will be a “no”. This might lead you to miss out on some of the projects you’re considering–or even already taking on–and that’s ok.
Because saying “no” also means you’re creating space for other, more aligned projects to enter into your life.
In Cathy’s podcast episode, Making Values Aligned Decisions, she walks through the steps to aligning our decisions with what WE want rather than what we think the academy requires.
6. It is such a painful process to spend hours, days, weeks, or months on a section of writing only to decide it needs to be cut. I often see scholars struggle with this reality because we want all our words on the page to be “productive,” i.e., to be printed and submitted in the final copy. It feels like a failure to spend so much time on something and just throw it away.
I enjoyed this post fromon “How to NOT Kill Your Darlings.” She gives some strategies for what to do with those darlings you don’t want to cut, but also a mindset for thinking about writing in general:
Regardless of whether your edit darlings turn into footnotes, future papers, or forgotten bits of text, these darlings have already served an important purpose. Writing isn’t just about the end results, the words that are written, the final product. Writing is also about the process, the thinking and learning that you do to get to that final product. By writing those darling words and sections and chapters, even if they don’t make it into the final version, you worked your way toward that final product. So those writing darlings were useful to you, even if they never see the light of day.
Writing is thinking, and you cannot get to the final draft without writing more than you will eventually include. Accepting that you needed to write that entire section you just deleted in order to think through the work will help you develop a more positive relationship with the writing process.