Here’s a lovely and creative a guest post from Pete Langman – an academic with his pen in a lot of inky pies. Pete muses (and meta muses) on what it’s like to try and work across a range of writing sectors today while lamenting a distinct lack of permanent lectureships .
It’s the beginning, isn’t it? It’s always the bloody beginning. How to start writing a piece? Since I became Dr Langman I have wrestled with this conundrum on many occasions. Here is a selection of recent first lines:
Known primarily for the section on Salomons House, the supposed blueprint for the Royal Society, New Atlantis is one of only two fictional texts written by Sir Francis Bacon (1563-1626), natural philosopher and statesman, and occupies a precarious positio
These posts are designed to help you (and I include me in this you, by the way), to help you … to help you what? The site’s title suggests that it’s about getting your PhD published, but that’s not it at all. It’s about getting what you write, what you produce, out into the marketplace. This marketplace may be the academic marketplace, and as such consists of advice regarding how to turn your PhD into something publishable … whether that’s an academic monograph, a peer-reviewed journal article, an essay in an edited collection, a popular [insert discipline here] book, a newspaper article, a magazine article, a blog post … each of these genres has different audiences (for example, PhD: four copies, 6 readers – academic monograph: 350 copies, maybe 1-10k readers …), different tones and different purposes, different modes of argument, different, different, different. Sarah Caro is looking at this in detail, but I thought I’d remind everyone …
Since my PhD, I have edited one essay collection, written one journal article, five academic essays for print, two academic essays for the internet, one encyclopedia entry, twelve academic reviews, five interviews for Guitar and Bass Magazine, one article for the Independent, two blogs for Prospect, lots of match reports for Sussex Express, several arts reviews, a lot of blogs, and a poem about a partridge in pear tree … and that’s ignoring the 60-something articles for Guitar and Bass and other assorted stuff I foisted on an unsuspecting public before I graduated. I am currently writing a novel, editing a children’s book and blogging myself into an early grave.
In common with many arts graduates, and probably all arts postgraduates, writing is a very large part of what I do, and the way I write is a large part of what I write about (and no, I don’t mean in a Derridean sense. He was French. They have different rules). Like many in these days of whine and closures, I have found that walking out of my viva with the instructions to gently wave a pencil at my magnum opus has not led smoothly to a lectureship. Since that strange, strange time when I was engulfed in post-viva grief, I have held a temporary lectureship, a research fellowship, appeared as a visiting lecturer at five separate institutions, marked essays, portfolios and exam scripts, and worked as a sub-editor and a journalist, all while penning perhaps fifty applications for jobs which I have little hope of getting.
Throughout this period I have watched those of my peers lucky enough, good enough or whatever enough to land a permanent position gently churn out pieces in the time that they are alloted (and rightly so) by their colleges for such duties. My positions did not allow for such luxuries and this, coupled with my own desires to write more than simply academic prose, and the need to turn my one skill into money, has somewhat curtailed my academic output. It has, however, led to my output being somewhat varied.
Naturally, the introduction has taken up almost all of my allowance, and I haven’t actually said anything yet – well, this is a blog. Or is it a meta-academic piece? One thing I have noticed is that the lines between academia, music journalism and fiction become increasingly blurred. My children’s book has a ship named after Philip Larkin; I once spent ten minutes talking to rock guitarist Steve Vai about the renaissance views on bees; I found myself writing a children’s book while writing an article on children’s books … my blogs have an unmistakeably Baconian air, and the introduction to my edited collection went gently Tristram Shandy, in homage to one of the essays which leapt, like Alice, through a hanging chad above the T of Tristram.
Now I need to sum it up pithily, wittily, intelligently. Frankly, it’s beyond me, but luckily Francis Bacon has a few words to say on the subject. Pick 1, 2, or 3.
-  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested (‘of Studies’, 1597).
-  If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties (Advancement of Learning, 1605).
-  Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man (‘of Studies’, 1597).