Writing Obstacle No. 10 – Wendy Laura Belcher
Posted by Charlotte Frost

This month of #AcWriMo we’re featuring heaps of advice from the book Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks by Wendy Laura Belcher. She’ll offer a wealth of information on carefully planning your writing and getting over obstacles – practical and emotional.

I’m afraid of writing because publication is so permanent.

This fear is one that professors often aid and abet. Graduate students in the humanities are often warned not to publish until they are completely ready and in absolute control of their topic. Professors caution that early articles can come back to haunt and embarrass the author. Nevertheless, the benefits of publication outweigh its dangers.

The argument for waiting to publish goes something like the following story, told to me by a friend who is a professor. An assistant professor in the department was up for tenure when hostile committee members dug up the professor’s first article. They proceeded to lambaste the professor with it, calling it a “vulgar tract.” In this case, my friend pointed out, publication had hurt rather than helped.

I asked my friend two simple questions. First, had the professor gotten tenure? My friend had to admit that the professor had. Perhaps the professor told the committee that the article was early work, and that if the later work could develop so far beyond the first article, this boded well for the trajectory of the professor’s career. Apparently, whatever the defense, it won the day. No one expects that scholars are going to have the same theoretical or ideological approach over the course of a lifetime

My second question was, had the professor published the article in a peer-reviewed journal? In fact, the professor had not. The article had been published in a collection of conference papers, where the papers were not properly vetted. That’s why I emphasize that students send their work to peer-reviewed journals only. The review process, however faulty, provides a safety net. If a peer-reviewed journal accepts your article, it probably won’t embarrass you later.

Other professors are more to the point than my friend. “There’s enough bad writing out there, why increase it?” one said. “Most graduate students have nothing worth publishing.” All I can say in response to such critics is that they have not read my students’ articles. Students’ first drafts for the classroom can be rough, but those students willing to do real revisions often produce fascinating, cutting-edge work that many professors would be proud to publish. Certainly, if quality were the only criteria for publication, many a faculty member dedicated to the obtuse would have to recuse him or herself from this debate.

You should set up goals for your writing as well.

Charlotte Frost. Posted by Charlotte Frost

Art & technology broadcaster/academic & glamour puss. Founder of Arts Future Book & PhD2Published.com. Provost International Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

1 Comment Posted in AcWriMo, Writing
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One Comment

  1. I’m in life sciences and there is actually empirical data that for us, publishing early and often predicts career success. Find the article here:
    http://conservationbytes.com/2013/09/19/early-to-press-is-best-for-success/

    I had wise mentors who encouraged me to start publishing when I was just starting out, asking me to write a few review papers while I was still reading the basic literature for my PhD. It was a smart move, after I had established myself as an author I started getting funded and also started to get invited to give talks. And 14 year down the line, I have just passed my first tenure evaluation…

    Experienced professors don’t expect the first works of their students to be breakthrough science. Writing and analyzing is a craft, and I strongly believe the craftmanship is learned by repeated exposure. So I try to teach my students how to write well from the get-go… And yes, go for peer reviewed papers and try to find a coauthor that is much more experienced than you are – this will ensure that you won’t need to be ashamed of your early efforts.

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