Ellie Mackin is a third year PhD student in Classics at King’s College London, and is working though Wendy Belcher’s ‘Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks’ while attempting to finish her thesis.
I am months away from submitting my PhD thesis and I, like many others in my position I suppose, am starting to worry about what I will do in my post-doctoral years. As students we are told to attend conferences, present our work, network and, above all, to publish. The ‘publish or perish’ mantra is one that has, for better or worse, reached down into the lowest levels of academia (I have taught first year undergraduates who are already worried about publishing to increase their chances of getting funding for postgraduate study, and there are increasing numbers of undergraduate journals appearing all over the UK.) But, there is very little guidance on exactly how to publish work that you won’t cringe with embarrassment about ten years down the track. That’s the reason I jumped at the change to review Wendy Laura Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks when Charlotte reached out over Twitter.
By way of introduction, I shall say this: I have submitted three articles for publication. One was (quite rightly, in hindsight) rejected outright. One was given a rewrite and resubmit, but I decided to shelve the idea for various reasons. One was published only a few weeks ago. I am a third-and-final-year PhD student in Classics in the UK. I have also recruited a friend, Andy, to work though the book with me, as Belcher suggests it is best to work though the book in a group or partnership. He has recently submitted, but not yet viva’d, and is also in Classics. Belcher also suggests that you can go though the workbook in any order you like – depending on what works for you. For the purpose of these reviews, I’ll be working though the book in the order it’s presented in.
The first think that strikes you about the book is how comforting the introduction is. Not only is is clear, but Belcher really explains how the book came about, particularly that it is the result of a lot of trial and error. It shows in the tasks, too, that a lot of experience has gone into the construction of the program. Andy commented specifically that he liked that Belcher sets out to help ‘those on the margins’ – graduate students and junior faculty – but that it’s proven to be useful to those at all career stages.
Each week is set out with a number of tasks, spread over five days and of varying lengths. Some of the tasks simply involve reading, some involve some thinking and workbooking. I assume that later down the line they will involve more writing and less reading. Week one gives a huge amount of information, and both Andy and I felt that some of it wasn’t relevant for us. But, I can see how it would be relevant to other people and so it really is a case of just taking on board the things that you need and moving over the other things. This included, more specifically, in a section about different types of writing challenges that writers face. If you’re willing to go through the information then there is a lot of great stuff that is very helpful. The very first task in the book is about understanding your own feelings about writing, and I won’t lie, I found it a bleak and depressing exercise. Incredibly helpful, but challenging to face up to my own emotional-writing-baggage.
By the end of the week, though, I’ve picked an article to work on and come to terms with some of my own writing habits. I’ve identified the obstacles that are relevant to me and I’ve started working on overcoming them. It’s early days, but I feel confident about getting though this book and having a good, solid piece of work at the end.
Next week we start actually working on the article!