While scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a link to the “Journal of Universal Rejection”, which is funny because it’s kinda true. (h/t Sam.) No, I promise I’m not this brutal as an editor…really, I’m not! But you can actually find some kernels of practical usefulness from might seem depressingly absurd. Below is a description of the “Journal”, along with this editor’s annotations:
About the Journal
The founding principle of the Journal of Universal Rejection (JofUR) is rejection. Universal rejection. That is to say, all submissions, regardless of quality, will be rejected. Despite that apparent drawback, here are a number of reasons you may choose to submit to the JofUR:
•You can send your manuscript here without suffering waves of anxiety regarding the eventual fate of your submission. You know with 100% certainty that it will not be accepted for publication.
Post Academic sez: Lots of academics, especially ones at the early stages of their careers, can relate to this nauseous feeling. You spent a lot of time polishing and obsessing about a piece, only to have the nagging thought that the product of your blood, sweat, and tears will languish in a stack of papers, real or virtual. I don’t know if it makes you feel any better, but at least your misery has lots and lots of good company. But practically speaking, just be sure your submission has multiple use. Maybe it can be your job talk if you’ve advanced that far in a search, or perhaps you can carve a few lesson plans and a conference paper out of it. Just don’t sit on your hands waiting on it, because 1. you don’t know when you’ll find out what happens to it and 2. there’s a chance that the news won’t be good anyway.
More helpful tips from ego-crushing guidelines below the fold…
It was only a matter of time before an academic wrote a letter to an advice columnist. In this case, last week a recent PhD wrote to Cary Tennis of Salon.com. Here’s the last paragraph, which sums up what so many people have been going through:
But also, it just sucks. I get headaches. I can feel my blood pressure rising. I cry (at home, not in front of students). And I haven’t even addressed the other parts of academic life — trying to get published, presenting papers in front of experts at conferences, dealing with the whims of university administration. I don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know why I’m doing this anymore. But I’ve spent so much time and energy and money working toward it — and I’m afraid that if I quit academia, I’ll be miserable, as I was when I worked in data entry. I suppose I’m just wondering if you can tell me how I can either be at peace with the crap parts of my field, or with the prospect of giving up the great parts of it too. I want to be happy. And I feel like I don’t know how to get there.
We’ve written before about the physical toll of being in grad school. And, in the letter to Cary Tennis, the author mentions having to deal with plagiarists and ratemyprofessors.com, but the author doesn’t mention turning to anyone else for help. Far too many academics fly completely solo, and it sounds like part of the issues driving the author of the letter involves a lack of support.
More after the jump! We don’t have a picture of Cary Tennis, but we’ll go with an advice columnist anyway. Image of Ann Landers from 1961 by Fred Palumbo from Wikimedia Commons, Library of Congress, no known copyright restrictions.
It’s not much of a surprise that I would be thinking more about the online peer review process we discussed last week, since that’s what I do many hours a week now. Again, whether or not it was wholly successful isn’t really the issue in my mind, but it’s that the folks at Shakespeare Quarterly and MediaCommons sought to innovate peer review and academic publishing. Like I mentioned last time, I’ve always been thinking about production and distribution when it came to imagining what digital media had to offer, and less about how scholarship and collegiality might also benefit. So the SQ experiment was definitely illuminating on that front.
What follows, then, are some things that could be brainstormed about the next time someone tries something like this, to build on what SQ and MediaCommons tried on this go-round:
Incorporating responses: One of the outcomes of the project was that there was so much feedback that authors found it took longer to process the comments, both in terms of time and page length. According to the journal’s editor David Schalkwyk in the piece that appeared in the Chronicle, editors and authors had to spend a good amount time keeping track of how the discussion of the articles went, which also led to more lengthy revisions. Think of it this way: Don’t you feel indebted to incorporate all the comments that people who’ve really taken the time to read your writing offer you? Well, multiply that by about 10 times, with the suggestions being public, so that there’s a record to check your changes against. Getting input is good, but there’s a limit to it, logistically for the editor and mentally for the writer.
More brainstorming below the fold…
So on the heels of finding the HuffPo College photo gallery/poll about academic publishers comes a well-circulated and oft-blogged-about story in the Monday’s New York Times about an online, open peer-review process experiment undertaken by Shakespeare Quarterly published by the Folger Shakespeare Library. To give credit where credit’s due, the Chronicle actually reported on what Shakespeare Quarterly (SQ) is doing last month, but you know it’s really big new when The Gray Lady reports on it. On the whole, we’ve been pushing for innovation in academic publishing on this blog, so this is a welcome development that bears observation.
Here’s how the open, online peer reviewing apparently worked: Contributors to a special issue of SQ were given a choice to have their submissions assessed according to a standard blind review or have them posted online at MediaCommons and commented upon by a group of invited experts and “self-selected” readers who register to the site. From what I can gather, it looks like the online reviewers basically post comments on the submitted essays like you would add comment bubbles on MS-Word track changes. Guest editor Katherine Rowe of Bryn Mawr calculates that 41 reviewers–invited and party-crashers–posted 350 comments for the four article and three book reviews in the issue. Any commenter had to be registered, putting her/his good name and reputation behind the criticisms and/or suggestions.
More on the open peer review process below the fold…
A few days ago, Huffington Post College did up one of their snazzy photo gallery polls for — get this — the best academic publishers! You’d think that HuffPo College was trying to find its own U.S. News Top Colleges and Grad Schools list or Princeton Review’s Most Drunken Schools list with its incessant bombardment of photo polls. HuffPo probably should’ve just stuck to the celebs-in-school slideshows, but I guess there’s only so many times you can point out that Hermione Granger is going to Brown–although I guess talking about James Franco going to Yale English is ever interesting and fascinating, right?
Anyway, HuffPo College must be scraping the bottom of the marketability barrel by compiling the 17 “Most Innovative” academic presses. When you skim through the story, two obvious thoughts come to mind: There are actually 17 academic presses that are still publishing these days and how is one of the top academic presses NOT Duke UP, which, for my money, comes out with the most interesting and best looking academicky books. When you include 17 U Presses on the list, you’ll obviously get (most of) the best and most obvious picks like UC Press, U Minnesota Press, NYU Press. But others are big name picks that aren’t exactly cutting edge both in terms of selection and design; I’m thinking of one of the industry’s standard bearers, Oxford UP, while Yale and Chicago have never really done it for me personally. And then there are the smaller UP’s that I never knew existed, like Kansas and Colorado.
Maybe Duke UP boycotted the rankings out of some kind of moral stand, like how Stanford sat out of the US News ratings and, coincidence or not, subsequently dropped in the poll. Oh yeah, maybe MIT Press sat out the rankings too, since it definitely covers very timely techie-fuzzy topics and its books look really awesome. Our new home team–the UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press–didn’t chart either, but wait ’til next year when our online offerings are up-and-running!
What’s next, the HuffPo College list of best esoteric journal titles? Maybe we can beat them to the punch on that one, and make it Post Academic’s trademark rankings dealie.
Now that I’m spending my days editing academic writing, I’m reminded of a post I wrote a few months back making the case for and against academics as superior writers to their counterparts in journalists and creative writers. Seeing as I’m reading lots of scholarly essays day in, day out, I’m pretty sure what I wrote before goes double for the strengths and weaknesses of academic as writers. (And if you are an academic reading this post, please, please, please follow the style sheet and formatting guidelines of whatever journal you’re submitting to–it makes the lives of your editors much easier!)
Anyhow, I figured now would be a fine time to continue our battle royale between academics, journalists, and creative writers. (Gee, we sure are having a lot of competition-style posts these days, though that’s not really the way we mousy post academics roll.) Anyway, it’s a little hard for me to write this installment in defense of journalists, because I’m not really one, unless you really stretch the category and count freelance music critics. But I guess I’ve worked for some news publications and know some journalists, so I can at least try to step into those shoes.
Strengths: The strengths of good journalistic writing can come through loud and clear and quickly. Excellent journalism combines a variety of skills that would seem completely antithetical to academic types, constructing a good narrative that includes lots of helpful information while remaining concise. Writing style is one thing, but journalists are probably underrated when it comes to their skill sets, which require them to take care of their assignments on time, letting go of an article when it’s done, and to actually work with other people…
More on cases for and against the journalist as the best writer…
Say what you will about deadline pressure and the 9-to-5 grind, but a little pressure is good every now and then. As a writer and an editor in the Hamster World, I lost the luxury of waiting until I had a good idea to write a long time ago. Deadlines forced words out of me whether I liked it or not. Here’s how to cope if you’re in the kind of work environment where you’re a writer, but you can’t ask for an extension:
Admit it won’t be perfect. This is the hardest one, so we’ll get it out of the way now. Academics are perfectionists, and perfectionists and deadlines do not mix. In fact, they clash, and the deadline will win every time. Your editor or manager will be happier with you if you meet the deadline, not if you turn in perfect copy.
Treat the content like gold. When producing an article, content or copy, the style is much harder to handle than the substance. In most cases, however, what people want to see is the substance. How on earth do journalists generate so many articles? Because they focus on the substance, and they use a template that delivers the most important content–who? what? when? where? why?–first. Yes, it seems simple, but it’s popular because it works.
More tips after the jump! The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Movie still, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.
Picking up on last week’s post on how to work through writer’s block, I thought I’d cover the process of how I have excerpted essay-length pieces out of dense, lengthy dissertation chapters. In my own case, this process has met with mixed results, so take my advice for what it’s worth: On the one hand, it did culminate in a published article that went through multiple self-imposed revisions, but, on the other, it also yielded an essay submission that was in limbo forever before I decided to give up on it. Still, even with the latter, I think that the revised essay was an improvement over the original chapter, in part because the writing was much tighter, due to constraints on length as well as the need to find a more focused argument for a proposed article.
Of course, this works from the assumption that you are starting with a big chunk of a diss chapter to begin with and not the other way around, where you start with an essay that you turn into something bigger and better. So if that’s the way you work, please feel free to chime in and let us know how you go about things!
Be practical: Before you start to look for a coherent essay in the midst of a tangled jumble of a diss chapter–whether in progress or completed–know what the parameters of your end goal should be. That means figuring out the length requirements for the journal you’re planning on sending a submission to, so that you have a target to aim for. It’s probably not a bad idea to try to compose a 20-25 page essay out of your source material, since that’s a good length for an article and useful, too, for job application writing samples. I know from experience that there’s nothing more nervewracking than having to tailor a 30-pp proposed article down to 20-pp essay on the fly when you receive that email from the search committee with a writing sample request.
More conversion tips below the fold… (more…)
Establishing a shorter time to degree has its pros and cons. One major pro might surprise you: Writing gets better when you are forced to work with boundaries, whether they are deadlines, word limits, or formatting restrictions.
Lifehacker suggests that people are more productive when faced with limits because you have to get creative. The best limit I set for myself is trying to answer one single question in a piece of writing. “What do I want someone to think or do after reading this piece?”
Usually, in the kind of writing that I do, the answer is simple: Buy now, call us, click through, etc. Once you have that goal, you can flesh it out. Otherwise, you’ll get lost, and the reader will get lost as you try to explain several different ideas at once.
This is tough for academics because academic writing involves a slow buildup, and the best academics can build an argument brick by brick. This style has value and can lead to surprising conclusions, but if you want to hook a reader, you need to at least suggest that you will answer one question. Then, once the reader is hooked, you can go all Derrida on them and take them on the theoretical equivalent of a magic carpet ride.
FYI: I hope that, after reading this piece, you set a deadline for finishing your dissertation or turning your resume into a CV.
Image of the seen power of the picket fence by Idir Fida from Vancouver, Canada, from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
Following up on reader SH’s wish list of topics (Thanks, SH!), I’m tackling the issue of how to deal with writer’s block, particularly while you’re dissertating. It’s kind of a timely topic too, since some of you are dreading dealing with the tangled mess your research has become as the summer progresses. I’m not going to be able to give you a magic bullet or anything, since I was hardly efficient in finishing my diss and everyone works differently. But I’ve come up with some tips from recalling some of the pitfalls I encountered, as well as looking around the corner at some logistical things that get obscured by the intellectual project that tends to come first and foremost.
Know Yourself: Like I said, I don’t have a magic bullet for how to finish the manuscript, because everyone writes differently. I’m not gonna give you a gimmick that writing 15 minutes a day will yield you X hundreds of pages over X period of months. It worked for some people I know, but I never tried it and all the time it would take me to convert to that mindset would take a lot longer than 15 minutes a day. Instead, I was the sort who needed huge blocks of time to go with the flow of my research and writing, which really only the summer could provide. Some days were not very productive, while some hours more than made up for the lost time. That’s just the way I worked, and I’m using my own personal, idiosyncratic approach to say that you should do what you need to do. By now, you know how to write and you know your habits, so don’t change when you’re in the home stretch.
In short, go with what brung ya: If you can pace yourself, that’s great. If you need to sit in front of the computer all day to get a few good hours, that’s fine, too. If you need a block of time to crank out as much you can, make room in your schedule. If you need carrots or sticks or both, do what it takes to fool yourself into writing a little more than you planned to. If you write best under pressure right at the deadline, why change now when you’ve only got one really, really big paper to finish?
More advice, after the jump…