Tag Archives: writing

The Hard Way #10: Know Your Own Style

A bunch of my Facebook friends over the last couple of days have reposted an article by Gregory Semenza, on the value of writing for ten minutes each day. I think that’s great advice for some people, but I also think that one’s maximum productivity is about knowing one’s strengths – and one’s limitations. While I’ve never thought of myself as particularly productive (or particularly unproductive), enough people have suggested that I am particularly productive that I thought that maybe I should weigh in on how that came to be – especially since the ‘writing for ten minutes each day’ thing – especially at the start of a project, where I really need some time to be able to think about what it is going to look like.

I do think that its universal that being goal-oriented is important to productivity, but I think it is important to listen to yourself and your strengths and weaknesses to figure out how to best do that. For me, people often suggest that I ‘don’t sleep’ to get the sort of productivity that I have. Actually, I sleep eight hours most nights, and find myself grumpy and unhappy when I don’t get the opportunity. In fact, I find desiring to sleep one of my most effective work-incentivization tools.

So if I don’t write ten minutes every day, what do I do to keep up with work? Here’s some stuff that works for me, though it may not work for you:

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The Hard Way #8: Co-Authoring

This isn’t really a lesson I learned “the hard way” – in fact, in a lot of ways, it is a lesson I learned “the easy way” – but I figured I’d keep the post series title alive. And I did learn some lessons of co-authoring “the hard way” – though, thankfully, very few. I am a big fan of co-authoring – I think, often, the sum of perspectives and skills is better than the parts. Add to that the fact that co-authoring is becoming more and more accepted in the discipline, and what could go wrong?

ertainly, I mean that tongue-in-cheek, and plenty could go wrong. But I think that the adventure is worth it. I have co-authored and co-edited with colleagues, mentors, students, and former students, and the overwhelming majority of these co-authoring relationships have been amazing. I call them relationships for a number of reasons: first, many of them have spanned a number of years and a number of projects; second, a lot of relating is actually necessary to producing quality product in co-authorship with someone else; third, it is important to think of co-authoring as a relationship to know that one is getting into a long-term professional involvement with even co-authors with whom one writes once; and, finally, I think that, for me, many of those relationships have easily been more than a sum of their parts. I could gush about how lucky I have been in the co-author (and co-editor) department for a whole post – but that isn’t great advice.

Instead, the rest of this post is going to talk about picking co-authors, some of the potential pitfalls of co-authorship, and some of the ways that I think good co-authoring relationships can be very helpful to a career in political science/International Relations.

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Can You Have Productivity Without Accountability and Punishment?

On a podcast I heard some time ago featuring Ray Romano (of Everybody Loves Raymond* fame) had the actor commenting on his writing and work process.  He basically admitted he was addicted to various unproductive habits and activities.  As a way of weaning himself away from these problems and impediments on his productivity; he would make bets with himself.  If he did not do X today, he would not be able to play a round of golf the next day.  If he failed to prepare a script, he would not be able to watch football that night.   Ever since then I have wondered how important accountability and punishment is for productivity.  Do we need to instill fear of the consequences to our own failure to ensure we move forward with our work?

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The Hard Way #5: Revising and Resubmitting

o, while I am not the foremost authority on this subject, I do have a fair amount of experience. In this post, I hope to give some advice both on revising and re-sending out an article that has been rejected, and on doing a revise and resubmit for a journal that has gifted you with that result. The first piece of advice that applies to both situations is to read the letter (and reviews, if they exist) immediately. In that immediate moment, get angry at the things that no one understood, or the parts of the result that you see as unfair.  Write an angry letter (but do not send it). Make a paper voodoo doll of the editor or of the reviewers. Make a list of ridiculous misreadings in the letter and/or the reviews. Call your non-academic friends and tell them how stupid and thankless your job is. Have a glass of wine.  Then throw away the voodoo doll, delete the letter, and walk away for at least a week. Blow off the steam. Allow yourself some negativity.

But then put an expiration date on the negativity. When you come back to the piece, letter, and reviews (if they exist), come back with a determination to learn from them. Sometimes, with a combination of good editors with the time to pay attention and good reviewers, it is easy to learn from the reviews. I’ve both written and received letters that explain exactly how to make something publishable, even when it is rejected from the journal. Those letters are a treasure – absorb every detail, and follow the instructions when they are clear. In a Revise and Resubmit letter, following the instructions increases the likelihood that the article is eventually published. That does not mean you have to agree with everything in the letter or the reviews – you can have reasoned disagreements with the prescriptions. In the best case, though, the letter and reviews will be easy to learn from and challenging but possible to engage. Sometimes, that ideal situation doesn’t exist, though – and whether or not it does, you need a plan. Here are some pointers, both about getting through hard letters and about making a plan. Continue reading

The Hard Way #4: Dealing with rejection (in publishing)

I am afraid the article has little to recommend. It is is general a very poor and incomplete overview of what is actually a very rich body of gender scholarship, given in weak scholarship, with low theoretical imagination, this is definitively not the piece that should represent Feminist Security Studies to our colleges. The article is riddled with sophomoric trivialities, slogans, cliches, commonplaces, and sexisms … In short, its publication would do considerable damage to the good repute of our field.

This is an excerpt of a review that a review article I submitted got very early in my career. In hindsight, the article was not ready to send out, and did have some weaknesses, though I think that it is an important lesson in professional development never to write a review like this. That is for another post, though …

I include this review here to suggest that we often actually deal with rejection individually – it is a lonely feeling that is hard not to take personally. Yet everyone – even the most successful people in the field – deals with rejection many times over the course of your career. It is how you deal with that rejection that is the mark of success or failure in a publishing career.

There will be a number of different posts in this series about different sorts of rejection and setbacks, but the rest of this post will focus on dealing with (and getting past) rejections from journal submissions.  Continue reading

The Hard Way #3: But send stuff out well

So the follow-up to my advice of “write stuff down and send stuff out” is that the “send stuff out” part is neither random or straightforward. So “send stuff out” should really read “send stuff out well” – and this post is aimed at some of the ways that one can do that. There are two main elements of “well” that i want to address – doing a good job packaging something to send it, and choosing the write place to send it. This post will talk about journal articles specifically, and future posts will address the book process.

So, what do I mean by doing a good job packaging something to send out? Assume for a second that we have chosen an outlet to send the article to (discussed below). That outlet has a guideline word count, a proposed submission format (word or PDF, Chicago or Harvard citations, footnotes or endnotes), a submission process (ScholarOne or email), a preference on self-citations (omitting them, replacing name with ‘author,’ doing noting), anonymity, the inclusion of a cover letter or bio. Follow them. Every single one of them. Some journals desk reject things that miss these things, but even the ones that don’t are annoyed by it. It is worth the couple of hours of your time to follow the guidelines. Make sure that you have copyedited what you’re sending, or that a friend or advisor has. Use a working email address (preferably a professional one) to make the submission. You might think that I am being silly about this, but as a journal editor, many submissions violate one or all of these rules, and it matters in their chances for publication success. When you submit something, do tailor it to the place you are submitting it.

Which brings me to … how do I choose an outlet?

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The Hard Way #2: the Challenges of Writing

Part of “writing stuff down and sending stuff out” (see Post #1 here) is developing good writing habits. I by no means think I have this down. Nonetheless, I thought this series offered a good time to share my experiences – most of which I learned the hard way. What follows, then, are the things I learned about how to be a productive writer.

1. Set aside time consistently to write. This sounds like “obvious” advice. Yet when life happens, I often find writing to be one of the first things that I neglect. The reason is clear: ignoring my writing has no immediate repercussions. If I fail to prepare a class, miss a committee meeting, close down office hours, ignore the pile of grading, do not register grades, or postpone responding to my email, there may be various angry constituents banging on my door. The same does not happen when I delay the writing of a paper. At most, another day passes without progress (although the tenure clock keeps ticking).

I probably don’t need to make the case for establishing consistent writing time, but I will nevertheless share two benefits of this strategy to me personally. First, it re-connects me with the topics I love to study. Writing therefore makes me more enthusiastic about my job. And being consistently enthusiastic has positive effects on how I handle my other, various job duties. Second, when I step away from writing for too long, it takes me a significant amount of time to get back “into the groove” when I return to it. At these return moments, I find myself re-reading what I wrote and wondering what I was trying to say; re-visiting “do files” and deciphering code to determine what models I ran and what remains to be done; and (if relevant) re-connecting with co-authors to ensure we’re both headed in the same direction again. This re-familiarization costs me hours of work time that might be used elsewhere. The better, more efficient solution is to do something – no matter how small – on my current project every day. (Note: I regularly fail at this, but I keep trying to do it anyway.)

I suppose the next logical question is: how does one do this? As with all writing advice, it’s personal. But I can share my process. As I get busier, I become more absent minded, so I rely more heavily on my calendar now than ever before. On my calendar, I block off 2-4 hour sections of time for a project on 4-6 days/week. This marks the time as “busy” for me, but it also prepares me psychologically for the writing task at hand. I know that from 1-5pm on Friday, for example, I will be working on Project A. When that time comes, there is no indecision about what to do. I know what to do.

2. Set goals and deadlines. Some writers (e.g., Stephen King) enforce a daily word quota and then work (however long) until meeting that quota. This strategy does not work well for me, as I find that I can either write well or a lot, but not usually both. Nonetheless, there are other ways to set goals. For example:
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The Hard Way #1: Write Stuff Down and Send Stuff Out

This post is the first in a series of professional development posts on RelationsInternational. I will write most of them, but accept guest posts and contributions from other members of RelationsInternational. This series of posts was inspired by some people in a conversation at ISA who suggested that there is utility in formally writing some of the stuff I’ve learned ‘the hard way’ over the course of my career down in case it would be useful to others. I in no way consider myself to be a guru-sort of anything, so take this advice or leave it, it has been useful to me over the years. 

The first time I was asked to be on a panel on how to publish, I’d barely secured my first job. I knew even at the time that I’d been asked because of the fairly voluminous amount of stuff I’d published in a wide variety of (including traditionally high-quality) outlets. I figured that I’d been asked to be on the panel because I had to have learned something from those experiences, and sat down to figure out what I’d learned. The list of lessons has gotten longer over the (many) years since that panel, and the first posts in this professional development series will try to address the list, one at a time. I still think, though, that the first lesson I came up with is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned (and relearned, and re-relearned) in publishing in the discipline.

Write stuff down. Send stuff out.

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