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.
After feeling great about finishing Week One and ready to overcome all of my writing demons, I struck a problem. Writer’s block. My thesis wasn’t going anywhere, my article wasn’t going anywhere, even my personal blog wasn’t going anywhere. But this will (I hope) highlight one of the great things about this book. The first day of Week Two I didn’t do the proscribed task (that’s why I’m now a day behind), but I went back and re-read the section on overcoming writing obstacles, I identified why I was feeling badly about writing, and in the end I just forced myself to write (and yes, I did delete everything I wrote that day, but the point was I wrote.)
And then I came, fresh and feeling good, to Week Two. The first task is to identify what type of article you are writing – predictably, I am writing an ‘humanities research article.’ Belcher covers every type of article imaginable, some of which I have never come across in my field, which was interesting if not useful (this, I suspect, is a feature of this book and the reason that it is relevant to so many people, because of the breadth of information Belcher provides – there will be some picking and choosing relevant information, but I think this is better than having a very narrowly focused book).
What came next is, I think, the most interesting information from this week’s tasks: Myths about Publishable Journal Articles, followed by What Gets Published and Why. I admit – I held some erroneous notions about what gets published and what makes an article publishable, and I am feeling significantly better about my own article after reading these. Articles do not have to be heavily theoretical, with an overload of ideas which are entirely original. Instead, Belcher suggests, three types of article get published: those which approach new evidence in an old way, those which approach old evidence in a new way, and those which pair an old approach and old evidence but in a new way. The key: something old (which makes your article relevant) with something new (which makes your article useful for others). So, I’ve identified what’s ‘old’ and what’s ‘new’ in my article, and discovered that I need to work on linking my findings to previous scholarship in order to make my article both relevant and useful.
The tasks then move on to writing an abstract, which I admit I was taken aback by. An abstract? Before I’ve written the article?!? But, it was a very useful exercise which went something like this: learning what makes a good abstract (hint: it’s not the same as a conference abstract!) Then, you have to talk your abstract – that is, sit down with someone and start by saying ‘My article is about…’ and though that process you get to a one sentence description of your article. Belcher then invites you to reflect on this process (which I found very handy, I have never been in the practice of reflecting on my own writing and I am quite enjoying doing it in this process). Following this, you must read your paper twice – once straight though, and once making notes. I found reading though without making notes both hard and useful. It allowed me to get a sense of the overall picture that my article was/is trying to present. I found it make the next activity, writing a list of revision tasks, much easier. Then you get to draft your abstract. Easy, right? No. Wrong. I found this so painfully difficult (I should have read ahead in the book!) because I wanted to get it ‘just right.’
But I didn’t need to, because then I had to send it to a reviewer. And they tore it apart (but in a good, nice, constructive way). And, so I finished the week rewriting my abstract, and reflecting on the process.
I’ve learned this week that I am a terrible re-reader, and if I am going to produce good, clean writing then I need to force myself to stop and look at the bigger picture. I’m looking forward to next week, where I get to start really tackling the argument of my article and making some of the changes I highlighted during the re-reading this week. I think that will be fun. As long as I don’t get writer’s block again!
Caitlin Syme said on October 29, 2013
You’re making me very tempted to go buy this book now… Having written one paper and now editing for the hundredth time, and now starting a new paper, I’d like to try a new technique and see if I can make the second better/less painful/quicker than the first!
Ellie Mackin said on November 1, 2013
I’m finding the book really useful – it certainly is changing the way I approach writing! I’m only three weeks in but I would recommend it so far!
I think if you’re the kind of person who likes structure, it could be a good technique to try.