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 need to start with a confession today: I am still not writing every day. I used to be in the habit – and writing is a habit, and that’s reinforced time and again in Belcher’s book – but lately I’ve been so overwhelmed by the task of writing that I still struggle. I certainly didn’t get enough done last week, which I was feeling terrible about but as soon as I opened the Week Three chapter I felt better:
If you didn’t get as much writing done last week as you hoped, join the club. Very few scholars ever feel that they have done enough.
Yep. That’s me. I never feel as though I’ve done anywhere near enough, and I bet many of you feel the same. In the first exercise of this week I was asked to reflect on what I’d learned from the previous week. I wrote: ‘I am still intimidated by writing.’ But, as Belcher very clearly states, the goal is not perfection but productivity, and as long as I keep being productive then I’m going okay. I hope.
This week started with a long explanation about types of articles that get rejected, with some concrete points. At the end of each section (which are things like ‘too narrow’ and ‘not scholarly’) you’re asked to reflect on your own article and see how you might address any or all of the problem points raised in the section. I found this really helpful, not because my article was a lot of one category or another, but because I could see that there were a small number of things from each category that I could improve my article by addressing. The main part of this section is about articles having no argument – which leads on to the week’s main exercises.
Day two starts with exercises on finding out what your article actually is about, i.e. what’s the argument and what’s the evidence. After you’ve identified your main argument (and this is a straightforward ‘In this article, I argue that…’ type of construction, so nothing super fancy but still very useful) and written down a short list of the evidence you’ve collated to prove your argument, Belcher asks you to go back to your abstract and revise it, in light of what you’ve written about your argument.
And then, as seems to be a theme here, you’ve got to share it again, this time with three different people (I confess I only shared mine with two…) and ask them to pick out what they see as the argument.
Well, this exercise did a lot for my abstract but not much for my writing confidence! My argument was more or less picked out by both and after a second revision (which I just did, it’s not in the book) it was significantly easier to spot.
(As a side note, and some proof of this book’s wide range, I’m about to start writing the conclusion of my PhD thesis – I’m going to modify the exercises from this week and put each of my chapters though the ringer, as it were, and use the ‘abstract’ created to draft my conclusion.)
Now, the task is to try and put that argument into your article, so the week ended with writing a list of revision tasks for each section of the article (that is ‘introduction’ ‘body’ ‘conclusion’ but also with headings ‘early’ and ‘evidence’) and then spending the last two days of the week revising the article, with these points and your (by now very clearly set) argument in mind.
I think my article is coming on – I feel that I’m making progress after this week, although my prose is still a point of contention (in my own mind, that is). I definitely feel that I’ve got a better base to start working from now, though.
All in all, a very good week (but not as much writing as I’d have liked) and my article is certainly coming along. This coming week is all about journal selection, and I wonder how my idea of appropriate journals will change after this!