I struggled with academic prose for the longest time. And since I have only ever worked at R1 universities with pretty rigorous publishing requirements (and an expectation post tenure and promotion) that one will still publish, I had to figure out academic prose. I can’t say that I have it all figured out, at all.
But, at this point in my career (15 years in), I can at least say that I understand the moves that are supposed to be made. As I struggled early on, I had a tiny post it note stuck to the bottom of my iMac. The note eventually had to be taped (you can see a tiny piece of the tap that eventually stopped sticking), and when I got my latest iMac I took it off where it has sat propped up with my menagerie of little animals that keep me company when I write (see below)
It’s really hard to read now, since the ink has faded, but it says
Definite & limited assertion
I’ve kept it al these years because it helps to remind me of the big picture: what am I arguing; what’s the big thing and then what is my plan for getting there. The second part is the power of the paragraph and the necessity to make them cohere as a unit and then cohere together.
My little sticky note is not novel in its advice nor likely novel its application. But I wanted to make a permanent record (of sorts) about why I have kept this little note all these years: it demystified the writing process.
My angst over academic writing had gotten to the point that I had almost convinced myself I would never figure it out. Then my good friend, Mary Beth, reminded me that I knew how to write. That I had been doing for it years—and getting paid for it—when I was technical writer.
Having this constant little reminder did indeed help. It was always there pointing to the process of academic writing and what I needed to focus on. I still write this way, that is, I still think of academic writing as the big outline and then at the paragraph level. I do a lot of writing as thinking which means sometimes I’m writing before I know the thing that I am actually arguing, but this approach moves things forward from messy, shitty first draft through all the iterations until it’s “done.”
Others have their own approach to get the writing done, but the bigger point is that you have to embrace your own writing process and approach. You have to intimately understand your own way of thinking and how that works to get words on the page. Understanding this about yourself also helps with all the other aspects of a faculty job: course prep, program and course design, committee work, and admin work. All these other tasks we do as faculty often need a clear plan and also include writing (different, yet the same).
Understanding myself–my process and how I thought–early on also gave me the confidence that the rest was just practice and persistence, which is always a good reminder.
I was cleaning up my workspace and paused to take these photos of my sticky note cause well, I am finally letting go of the desktop. I am moving fully to a laptop that will dock into a monster ultrawide monitor (that can function like multiple monitors). I’m still standing up with my stand up desk, and when I dock the laptop I’ll still be using my trusty ergonomic, accessible full-size keyboard. But like many of us I am sure, the pandemic brought into stark relief where my work processes were not really working anymore. That combined with the end life of all of my technology has made me really reconsider how I work and what I needed to do that work. I’m gonna miss my iMac, but I am also looking forward to trying out a new set up. (When all of it gets here and its set-up, I’ll post a new set-up photo.)
While I have some fears of this change, my little sticky note reminded me that even with these material changes to my work processes, I know how I work and how to approach to writing. So as I let go of the desktop, I think I’m gonna finally let go of this sticky note. Letting go is scary, bit it’s also freeing.
Here’s to my writing with a new setup and my same ol’ process.
Happy writing to you—no matter what that writing and work is.
Wishing you health, peace, and joy!