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The painful process of writing academic book chapters/articles November 22, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, food for thought, writing.
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I love writing (as you can tell from my more than 1,260 blog posts so far) but sometimes, it is just hard to get started on the subject matter at hand. I remember that, when I presented a talk in 2001 in Berlin (Germany), I started writing the paper at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, using my then Compaq laptop (my brother and I bought matching laptops at the time, before they were acquired by HP).

It took me the whole afternoon, evening and I seem to recall that I was up until about 3 or 4 am that night. My brother had gone away for the weekend (at the time, we were living together) and I had the whole evening/weekend to focus on the paper. I got it done at around 11am on the Sunday. That conference paper became the cornerstone of much of my research agenda to this day.

Many people seem quite impressed that I can write as much on my blog as I do. To tell you the honest truth, I write on my blog as I think. That is, if you read any of my entries, you might as well be sitting right beside me listening to my unstopping chattering. I set that as the goal of my blog: it should read in the same way as my normal conversation.

Sometimes I crank anywhere between 1 and 6 posts in a day and writing all that content doesn’t really take me much effort in terms of how long it takes me to write or even research and do the links for a post. This is not because blogging is oh-so-easy, but because I am so familiar with my own writing and the general links I use as sources, etc. that my writing now flows with ease.

The only problem tonight is that the writing isn’t flowing as much, so what I decided to do was to create the EndNote style (I use EndNote for academic reference management) for this specific book chapter. I also created the general heading structure and laid out the overall argument I am giving in the chapter. Finally, I pulled text that I had already written in other academic papers, making sure that I noted that it wasn’t all original text. Then I added a substantial amount of original thoughts. Now all I have to do (which I plan to do all Saturday) is to print it out, edit the language so that it’s not a direct cut-and-paste, insert enough original content as to make the argument flow, and then send it for proofreading/editing with some of my colleagues.

This last bit is a piece of advice I am happy to pass along. Despite the fact that I am an academic (or I guess, precisely for that reason), I *always* make a point of asking for advice and input on anything academic I write. ALWAYS. And my journal article/book chapter acceptance rates are really good. I think that this comes as a result not only from writing good research, but also being humble enough to ask for advice from your peers. That’s the only way you can get better. So I always ask my friends to edit my stuff, even if they are not academics, because they are always able to provide a fresh perspective.

Musings from Raul’s very tired mind at 3:30am after having cranked out a really good first draft of an original contribution (book chapter).

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