global politics, relationally

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.

I know that this sounds like a silly lesson. But it is one we often forget to learn ourselves, and even more often forget to tell our students, menthes, and junior colleagues. Writing stuff down and sending stuff out seems intuitive, but, surprisingly, most people with publishing woes fail at one or both of these things.

Some people do not write stuff down and send it out because they feel like it needs to be perfectly straight in their head before they do, or perfectly organized, or path-breaking, or something like that. Here’s news: it does not. The second draft is always better than the first, but there can be no second draft without a first one. Even something you think is actually perfect is likely to get an R&R at a journal (if that, more on these things in future posts), so it doesn’t have to be the Sistine Chapel to go out to a journal the first time. While you don’t want to send something with a bunch of typos, or without a theory, or with bad data analysis, you also don’t want to keep it on your desktop stewing about the perfection of the final point forever. When it is close enough that a reviewer is likely to be able to read it and contribute to the conversation, it is ready to be sent out.

Others do not write stuff down and send it out because they get (justifiably) distracted by the million and five other things that we are expected to do. That will always be a challenge – especially for those people whose primary job responsibilities are teaching rather than research, or those people who have a significant number of responsibilities at home or within other family/friend structures. That will always be a challenge, but is also the time when this first cardinal rule of publishing is the most important to follow – because putting something away ‘to think about’ in those sorts of situations can turn from days to weeks to months.

For me, though I have been pretty productive, there have been various projects which have looked insurmountable before I forced myself to write them – whether it was one hundred words at a time or thousands. After I started writing, they looked conquerable. There have been times in my life where I thought, for one reason or another, I wouldn’t find the fortitude to accomplish my writing tasks. I have figured out over the years that incrementally getting the writing done cures the fear of writing. While every once in a while I still hide my eyes when I hit the “send” button, each time it gets easier, and each increment makes a project easier.

So, write stuff down. Send stuff out. That’s the first lesson I learned ‘the hard way.’ Stay tuned for post #2, wherein I tell you about how I learned ‘the hard way’ to send stuff out strategically.