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Successful Academic Writers Pursue Their Passions – Wendy Laura Belcher
Belcher Journa Article in 12 Weeks

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.

When students list positive experiences with writing, they often note genuine interest in a topic as a real engine. Successful writers do not write primarily for their professors, their classmates, or their hiring committees. Rather, they focus on the questions that fascinate them.

For example, one of my students was writing about the negative effect of welfare reform on Cambodian women. She drafted and revised her article in record time because she was so angry about the policy’s consequences. A Korean student who grew up in Japan persevered despite several obstacles to publish her research showing that Koreans in Japan labor under legally imposed hardships. A student who wrote about pedigreed dogs and another who wrote about food metaphors always worked steadily because the topics were also life-long hobbies. Other students used their own experiences of ethnicity, gender, or nationality to reinterpret canonical texts, placing the traditional in a completely new light.

The lesson? The world changes quickly, so you are more likely to have positive writing experiences if you follow your deepest interests rather than passing fads. As the authors of The Craft of Research point out, “Nothing will contribute to the quality of your work more than your sense of its worth and your commitment to it” (Booth, Colomb, and Williams 1995, 36).

My model for this is an artist I discovered while doing research on street art in Washington, D.C. I spent a summer walking the inner city photographing everything creative I could find: murals, street games, hair weaving, garbage can musicians, fence art (Belcher 1987). I spent a lot of time in alleys looking at graffiti and I kept coming across the same thing. Huge spray paintings of women’s shoes. Not just life-size, but ten feet across. All of the shoes were portrayed from one side, in profile, and all of them were pumps. I became an expert on the development of this artist whom I never met, soon able to distinguish early pump (when shoes went untitled) from later pump (when shoes appeared with titles like “Black Evening Pump” or “Leopard Skin Pump” and were signed “Ray (c) 1987”). Whenever I found a new one, in yet another out of the way place, I was delighted. Because this artist took his or her idiosyncrasy and pushed it, unafraid to paint feminine footwear across an entire urban landscape. So obsess about things, pursue your passions, do not be bullied. Whatever your pump is, paint it.

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