Rambling Thoughts and Bits of Gold Based on Reader Questions
Two New Features of Publish Not Perish
Greetings, dear readers! Today I’m doing my first “Office Hours” post for Publish Not Perish! Thanks very much to those of you who submitted questions and/or commented on posts to ask for guidance. I won't be able to answer all of your questions, but I will keep them in mind as I plan future posts and/or include them in a future Office Hour style post.
Paid subscribers also now have access to a permanent link on the Publish Not Perish website to ask anonymous questions at any time.
But wait, there’s more!
One of my goals for Publish Not Perish is to expand my offerings to include perspectives and experiences outside my own. I’m pleased to announce that I’m now accepting pitches for guest posts! Do you have a suggestion for a writing, research, or time management topic that will allow you to write more or simply live better? Do you have a distinct perspective or life experience that others might find useful to hear?
Everyone is welcome to pitch, including graduate students, postdocs, junior and senior scholars, freelancers, adjuncts, independent scholars, etc.
See this page for more information on pitching a guest post.
As an academic writer, have you ever found yourself feeling stifled by the dryness of academic writing? Are you able to express yourself more freely in your blog compared with academic writing? How do you think academic writing compares to blogging in terms of pleasure and creativity? Do you find your blog a good outlet for self-expression, and have you considered other forms of self-expression such as video, TikTok, or Instagram?
Dear Seeking Creativity: I love the opportunity to think through the different genres of writing that I do. I’m going to discuss three. Journal articles require me to fit a lot of big ideas into a small number of words, so my sentences have to be economical, which means I end up with more jargon and academic language because those words can hold more precise meaning. This is my least favorite writing style because I often don't have enough space to use more descriptive or storytelling language, but it is a good way to get complex ideas out into the world.
I really enjoyed writing my book because there was room for telling stories and reflecting on my own experiences as they related to the topic, and I had more word count to play with in each chapter. I also attempted to write it in such a way that intelligent upper-division undergraduates could understand it, which allowed for greater clarity and creativity in the writing. Academic publishers generally like this approach because they want to be able to market your book to a broader audience. However, both journal articles and books have academic conventions that we must follow in order to be published. I believe this is frequently where we feel our writing creativity is stifled because we must conform to the constraints of our fields and/or the academy.
There are fewer constraints and more room for experimentation with Publish Not Perish than I would have in the journal article genre. I want the posts to resonate with people, but I'm not under any pressure to please an anonymous reviewer or academic conventions, which gives me a lot of room to express myself freely. Social media isn't my preferred mode of communication because it's too condensed and I have to respond very quickly. I find the 1000–1800 word range to be more of my sweet spot, and I generally like reflecting more on what I write before I send it into the ether.
What are the pros and cons of writing a book versus publishing multiple journal articles?
Dear Considering Genres: The answer may vary depending on the field or department with which you are affiliated. For example, a friend of mine wanted to turn his dissertation into a book, but his department only counted that publication as the equivalent of one journal article for promotion and tenure. A book is obviously more like writing 5–6 journal articles, but some fields and departments do not treat it that way. My department, on the other hand, requires that I publish a book in order to be tenured. Because of these realities, my friend turned his dissertation into several articles, and I wrote a book. As I mentioned in my response to Seeking Creativity, I am glad I ended up in a book department because I discovered I really enjoy the genre.
Let’s say that your department would allow either genre, or that you are not affiliated with a department that would have a bearing on your decision, or that you are not applying for academic jobs that would impact your decision. As I also wrote in response to Seeking Creativity’s question, the writing style can differ quite a lot from a journal article to a book, and you might consider what you naturally gravitate towards. Do you prefer reading books or journal articles? The answer to that question can tell you about the styles of writing you most enjoy. A book also requires an argumentative thread that runs through all of its chapters. If you can't make that case or find that argument that unites the book, it's best to publish them as journal articles. For more on arguments, see my recent post, Crafting Argument-Driven Manuscripts.
Wanting to Fit In:
How do I fit into the U.S. academic system if I’m not from here and was not trained here?
Dear Wanting to Fit In: First and foremost, American institutions should do a much better job of providing resources and a sense of community for international students and scholars. There are many layers of culture and culture shock to navigate, and doing so alone can be dizzying and isolating. Second, I believe the answer to this question will be more dependent on your specific situation, but I will offer some general thoughts. It's critical to recognize that there are at least three layers of culture to navigate.
You have to deal with American culture in general, which often means direct communication and a more individualistic approach to work and life than some other cultures. You have the American university system, which may have different structures depending on where you are from and where you trained. Some American campuses, for example, are residential and have a large number of student programs and services, whereas other places may not have the same level of student activities and social engagement, which influences expectations on faculty. Then there's the disciplinary culture to consider. Are you a humanist who writes primarily on your own or a scientist who works in a lab with others? How you interact with your coworkers and what is expected of you at work will differ in these environments.
I think it’s important to allow yourself a period of time to observe, listen, and ask questions because that is the only way to learn all of the intricacies of the three levels of culture I’ve identified (and there certainly may be others). Consider gathering a group of international scholars on your campus to talk about what you're going through and to support one another as you navigate this new environment. In sum, be kind to yourself and acknowledge that there’s so much newness for you to digest right now. The best thing you can do is think, reflect, process, discuss, and question over time to help you best navigate the differences.
What strategies do you use for caring for the physical body while writing?
Dear Seeking Self-Care: Thank you for this question! You've inspired me to raise my desk to standing mode so that I can stand for a few minutes while I write, and thus avoid being a hypocrite in my response. I believe the key is to take breaks, change positions, walk, stretch, and rest your eyes. Because academics have a tendency to become absorbed in our work, you may need to set reminders to remember to take care of your body.
I try not to write for more than an hour without taking some sort of break. My dogs (pictured below) are really helpful for this. Because they are both puppies, they require frequent potty breaks when I work from home. I'll take them out into the backyard for 10 minutes to get away from my desk. When possible, I will also take them for walks during the workday.
My optometrist also says it’s very important to look off into the distance periodically to avoid eye strain from the close work of reading or staring at the computer. Just looking away for a minute can be beneficial. If you have a nice view near your desk, then gaze at your surroundings for a while. If you’re in a coffee shop or library, then people-watch for as long as you can without it being creepy. Publish Not Perish does not condone creepiness.
If physically standing is an option for you, then I would recommend this as a strategy. I try to stand while working for at least a couple hours a day, and this helps alleviate the pressure on my far-too-rapidly aging back disks. I bought this desk on Amazon for $200 and it does the trick.
Thanks to everyone who submitted questions! Paid subscribers, be sure to submit your anonymous questions via this page.