Thursday, April 30, 2009

MMAP Challenge Update April 30: What is a Research Agenda?

I've run into a bit of a block here, what with grading and also not spontaneously combusting from the frustrations of grading (see my previous post for part of the story) taking up all my time. So I have no progress to report for yesterday or today, and right now I have more ungraded papers than I'd like and a stomachache from too much coffee at the end of the day.

We are more than halfway through the Magical Month of Academic Publishing Challenge and while there has been progress, it has not been magical. Moreover, I'm starting to stumble and backslide, just like how a diet goes from exciting and hopeful to boring and hard and you plateau, and before you know it, you've scarfed down two servings of chili cheese fries and convinced yourself they were "diet" fries. I'm going to have to take tomorrow to rededicate myself to the project and get back in touch with the magicalness of it all. I will remind myself that I have done a lot of rewriting and that I am pretty pleased with my new material. Chili cheese fries may be involved as part of this recommitment-to-research ceremony (I just wish that my dieting and bouts of intense writing could work with, rather than against, each other).

But, back to the title of this post, I am also looking ahead to my next project(s). And I may have the wherewithal to put a lot of time towards my research this summer, which brings me to the question of what my next reasearch project should be. What _is_ a research agenda, people? As I plan to make one final try at a permanent gig in the fall, what should I be working on this summer ---- my diss into a book? Another article culled from the diss? Writing a new article from scratch on my diss-related research? Or a new article on non-diss research to show I am more than a "one-trick pony"?

I have no clue what a, much less my, research agenda is. Or if I would need to have a different research agenda for different types of schools or departments. Surprisingly, Google is not helping me --- hardly anyone has defined what a research agenda is.

I found a thread on the Chronicle forums, “Research Program Outline?
- I'm wondering if some of you might share what items should typically go in one's research program (or research agenda).
- Many job positions ask for a discussion of one's research agenda or research program; this is also very common during the tenrue review process (to explain how one's research hangs together). … A statement regarding a research program typically begins with a research question that is central to one's research. What is the puzzle that informs each of the research projects that one takes on?

Second, the statement will justify the significance of this research: Why is this research considered to be important in your field?

Third, the statement might discuss the data that the researcher is capitalizing on to address their research question. What are the data? How have they been collected? What makes these data more appropriate compared to past researchers?

Finally, a discussion would include a description of what the author has accomplished so far, what the researcher expects to produce in terms of future publications. In short, lay out what your production schedule will be over the next year or two; be as specific as possible.
So, that's a start at a definition. But it seems to be saying that a "research agenda" is more about planning out one project, rather than the entire trajectory of your research carreer. Is that right? I had assumed the term meant you were mapping out an arc for your life's work. If "research agenda" = book or project proposal, that's something of a much smaller scope. Maybe I can figure that out.

When I was writing my prospectus, my dept. urged us to model the prospectus on grant proposals or requests for sabatticals, such as the requirements here or here. Again, these seem like book proposals rather than life trajectories.

So have I totally misunderstood what it means to have a research agenda? And would I have the same research agenda whether I applied to research or teaching schools? And can someone please make me an agenda, or plan out what I should be working on this summer for me? Kthxbai!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An Open Letter to my Students

*ahem. tap, tap. * Is this on?

Dear Students,


Thank you. That is all.

MMAP Update April 28: 9 to 10:30 am at work on the penultimate paragraph of the essay. Things are pulling together. Not that this means I only have one more paragraph to rewrite, just that I'm working hard on making the ending feel like an ending. Something my students will never get if they restrict their writing process to tokin it up and pounding out a few pages of drivel that then never gets revised.

Monday, April 27, 2009

MMAP Update April 25, 26, 27: Success!

Saturday: worked a half hour. Typical progress.

Sunday: did no revision work at all. Oh well.

Monday: Have worked for 45 minutes so far. Success! A breakthrough! Sometimes I worry that the "tunnel vision" method of just trying to rewrite a paragraph at a time will mean that I have a crapload of revision to do at the macro level once I've added in everything I need to add in. But I think one of the benefits of keeping it on the front burner at all times and chipping away at it (nearly) every day is that I am thinking about how the whole thing fits together on some semi-conscious level. Today I finished off writing up a paragraph and in tying together all the loose ends for that section it went off on a side direction. "Damn," I thought. "I'm gonna be another three days making sure my conclusions here actually link up to the next paragraph and flow through to the next section of my argument!"

But no! I'm looking at this next paragraph and realizing they flow together pretty well, and then I came up with a subhead that will tie these sections together and I am actually not slanting off in odd directions at all! Hallelujah! Whoo-hoo! On some level my brain has been keeping track of the threads and connections and the larger flow of the argument! Oh thank the gods --- maybe this means I'm getting better at revision! And maybe, in a huge hope against hope, this will mean that the process is getting easier --- or at least that I will get better results for the same amount of agony, I could live with that.

Ok, that's all --- now I'm going to go pee and then go get more coffee and get right back to fixing up this essay.

Friday, April 24, 2009

MMAP Update April 24: A Little Revision is a Dangerous Thing

Aha! Yay! Worked from 9 to noon today! Boo-yah! Then I required a nap to recover. And I went back and fiddled with some stuff a little more, so if I can make myself do it, I'll go type in those changes tonight as well.

I would like to say that overall it's really good progress and I am very close, but when I went and started to look over the whole essay I saw that there were still a lot of bolded sections and the beginning, which I have been ignoring, still looks really bad. So, eek! Stop looking, stop looking! Tunnel vision is all that gets me through a major project: just look at one paragraph at a time. Baby steps, baby steps.

In other news, I need to be careful of having all my rental videos be documentaries at once --- I have a bunch of what promises to be some very depressing, overwhelming, or guilt-inducing shows, with no mindless fluff or comic relief in the house. That means my pile will just sit there and stagnate as I have to actually watch one of them to send 'em back and get some lighter fare. Ah well. Off to watch something about the imminent destruction of the world, I guess!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

MMAP Challenge Update April 23: Review: Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks

(Warning: long post!)

This book was designed by Wendy Belcher for graduate-level writing courses. Her students, from a variety of humanities and social-science fields, familiarized themselves with the world of peer-reviewed journals and began transforming their essays into publishable articles. They didn’t just learn about the process: Belcher claims many of her students submitted their articles to journals and eventually got acceptances. The workbook is structured along a weekly plan with each chapter broken down into small, manageable tasks that are even laid out day by day, making the whole process seem clear and unintimidating — the format is designed to force students to work slowly and steadily at the process and forestall anxious meltdowns. Unlike Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes A Day, which the author, Joan Bolker, admits is not possible (it’s a technique to get the stuck writer unstuck by starting small, but the author urges the reader to increase the work time fairly quickly), Belcher’s 12-week timeline is reasonably workable — some people may be able to condense the first few weeks, and Belcher herself admits that some of the steps may stretch longer, but the 12 weeks is doable.

The careful reader of prose will infer from my first paragraph that the workbook is very basic and does a lot of hand-holding; I would characterize the tone as talking flighty, high-strung graduate students down from the ledge while still chivvying them into taking up consistent work habits. There is a lot of discussion here at the beginning about anticipating writing obstacles, avoiding procrastination and writer’s block, and the importance of persisting despite rejections or stumbling-blocks. If you have already read books by Robert Boice, such as Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing or Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus, you will find this section too general and derivative of other writing guides. If you haven’t already procrastinated your writing by reading extensively in the productivity literature, as I have, you will find these parts useful and encouraging.

The ideal audience for this workbook is the graduate student who has never tried to publish anything before — Belcher lays out in painstaking detail what one should consider when choosing which seminar paper to turn into an article, what type of article one could turn it in to, such as a review of the field or a research article (hint: usually only established scholars write review-of-the-field articles), and what specifically makes a publishable article distinct from a seminar paper. In this last topic Belcher has a lot of useful comments about what constitutes a worthwhile, new, intervention in the field and how this does not necessarily mean “completely groundbreaking” or “mindblowingly original,” which I found quite helpful — she points out that in our seminars we often read the “best articles ever” rather than the adequate, publishable articles, and thus beginning scholars can have an unrealistic concept of what is publishable quality.

Belcher also leads the reader through how to choose a venue (including what in general makes a good venue, and how to tell if the journal is peer reviewed), how to read and outline some model articles from the target journal, and explains how to write an abstract — something I had to reverse-engineer from published abstracts in the back of PMLA back when I was first doing conferences, and I really would have appreciated some instruction in this at the beginning of my grad career.

Some of the advice I found less-than-helpful or just nonpertinent — while she makes a case for querying a journal editor before submitting the article, I’m not convinced. If you’ve done the research she says about matching your article to the journal’s fit, and you have the article, just send it off. The points she makes about evaluating and citing “the literature,” particularly literary theory, I just found to be too basic — if you don’t know that you should go back to the original scholarly source instead of encyclopedias or popular magazines, you shouldn’t be in a grad program, or at the very least you should get up to speed on this in your first year.

Likewise, if you are one of those literature grad students who refuses to engage with theory (well, if you are I’ve got a bigger bone to pick with you!), and you want or need to deal with psychoanalysis or narrative theory or structuralism or what-have-you in this article you are sending out, I do not think you can get safely up to speed by just reading headnotes in the Richter or Norton anthology of theory. I don’t think theory can be faked, or name-dropped, or glossed over in a publication, at least not if you are a new scholar. My view has always been that grad school is the place to read widely and engage with theory and that you as a grad student have an obligation to take theory classes and familiarize yourself with major strands of thought at least enough to explain cogently why you are not using said theoretical framework.

What Makes Belcher Special: Specific to Journals

Some people on the Chronicle boards have questioned whether this book is worth it when it seems to do the same thing as William Germano’s books (Getting it Published and From Dissertation to Book). Belcher focuses on journals rather than the book form. The most helpful sections for me were “Common Reasons Why Journals Reject Articles” and “Types of Journal Decisions,” both of which included examples. While it is true that the fit, scope, and style of a journal can all be studied by reading back articles, journal responses are a “black box” to new scholars, for obvious reasons. Grad students get feedback on their essays, but not in the form of rejection letters or readers’ reports, so we have never seen them before. And since editorial correspondence is private and there aren’t piles of sample rejection letters up on the internet, it is very hard to understand whether we have gotten a devastating rejection or an encouraging one. Belcher breaks down the types of comments, explains the difference between a “warm” and a “cool” R&R (noting that it is difficult to distinguish between them) and points out which complaints are easily fixed and which ones are veiled damnations. This was so helpful to me, and I can see now not only that I had relatively mild criticisms, but that when the editor summarized them in his/her cover letter, they were considerably toned down, and I was very much encouraged to resubmit.

If you have published before, or if you are like me and have been trying to submit and resubmit articles frequently, you will probably find the book a little basic, and it may not be for you. I noticed that I read straight through the entire book and then just went off on my own — I know pretty much what I need to do because it is a revise and resubmit. This is a book for people who don’t really know what peer review is, which still provides a valid and necessary service to starting scholars. Only the last chapter, “Responding to Journal Decisions,” is directly pertinent to where I’m at in the process right now. I’m still glad I bought it, and I would still recommend it to other people — just maybe not to people who have successfully placed a couple articles. However, I will make one exception: if you are a professor who teaches in a literature PhD program I would strongly recommend you get hold of a copy (perhaps through ILL?) and take a good look at it. Even if you don’t teach a “methods” course, a publishing course or an “intro to grad studies” course, I would recommend you make your advisees buy a copy and read it on their own. This was one of the most mystifying areas of grad school for me, and the area I got the least advice on.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

MMAP Update April 22: Decisions and Revisions Which a Minute Will Reverse

It's April; seemed apt. ;)

Today I worked from 9 to about 10:45 (I stayed until 11, but the actual steam ran out of the productivity a bit earlier). Although I worked longer than I had on other days, today's output is still the same: one paragraph reworked. Perhaps the solution, since I only finish revising one paragraph no matter what, is to only work on it for 15 minutes? Then I would be making incredible progress ---- a paragraph every fifteen minutes (spread out across days) and have lots of free time to get other things done! Somehow, though, I don't think it will work this way.

The paragraph for today is a short one, too. But today's work also involved typing in a whole bunch of other quotes, realizing that I needed to talk about them in this other paragraph and moving them, then deciding that this move meant I could rearrange the structure and put today's paragraph first, and then changing my mind and putting it back where I was. Twice. Such exhaustion for so little effort! Who called thinking "the moving about of great secret trunks"? My attic-brain doesn't look any different, unless you notice that the silhouettes of dust on the floorboards are different from where the great big boxes are.

Ah well. Things proceed apace. A pace slower than the glaciers are melting, but still. They're galloping along pretty quickly these days.

In other news, I had decided that this year is the year of Getting Some Shit Published and that I needed to get all my stuff out rather than distract myself with pretty shiny conferences and things. I have lots of conference presentations on my CV and I think I use them a bit as a crutch --- as a way of feeling productive while managing to avoid dealing with publishing (or writing my dissertation, back in the old days.) And besides, being all impoverished and soon-to-be unemployed and whatnot, it just doesn't make sense for me to go to any conferences this year.

Except. Someone in my dept. told me that the UPenn calls for papers website was back up and has an RSS feed now. So I have it on my bloglines and now check it regularly as I'm catching up on you-all's lives. And it is making me all sad and nostalgic and desirous of going to my usual conferences ---- for some of the ones in my field I have been following long enough to feel like they are "mine." And though it's too late to get in on my usual haunts I keep thinking to myself that maybe this was a bad idea and I've been wanting a vacation to someplace cool anyway and I should just up and send something in somewhere. Sigh.

I could end this post by asking you all what you think the best course of action is --- in keeping with today's theme of indecisiveness --- but I really think I need you folks to talk me down and keep me committed to my first plan. I'll miss not seeing people this year but I have conference lines on my CV; I need to get some pubs on there too. Tomorrow though I think I will be asking about how to create a "research agenda," so you can direct my waffliness then.

Monday, April 20, 2009

MMAP Update April 21: Why is English Literature a Book Field, Anyway?

You know, a while back ---- ok, like approaching years ago now ---- I made my students do book reviews in one of the courses I taught. I had stayed away from them, because "book report" just screams high school to me: not only can they encourage simplistic thinking and summary rather than an actual disciplined engagement, but my friends and I used to compete for who could get an A with having read as little of the book as possible. Jason won the entire campaign by inventing a book on WWI out of whole cloth. He included maps of the Somme. I gave up at that point, knowing I was outclassed.

But on the other hand, some of my grad profs have made me do book reivews of recent stuff to get a sense of "coverage" of the field being taught in that class. (Someone carped that this was how Prof So-and-So was staying current in the field, but I did learn a lot from the process.) And since I had just read a bunch of books directly in my field if not quite on my topic, I made up a list of about 20 or so and sent my students off into the stacks. I tried to make a very specific, difficult assignment asking them to find the overarching argument of the book and critique it.

It had mixed results. The students didn't know how to deal with an argument when a chapter covered an author we had not read or an author we had read but not that specific work in that chapter. (Yes, a lot of these were dissertations-into-books.) They also found the academic "voice" difficult, contentious, and completely boring. (I like to think that I put a bunch of smart but lazy students off of applying to grad school, as many who had been asking me questions about that whole process came back all huffy that the books were "boring." Well, yeah! My job is to instill an appreciation of literature into you undergraduates. That is nothing like what you would do as a grad student.)

And the whole exercise also made me think about why we ---- literature scholars ---- actually publish books. Especially because none of the students had ever done this or been asked to do this before ---- they could not fulfill the assignment without walking into the stacks. I know lots of people have assigned research projects here, but undergrads generally go to journal articles and can do just fine, or find single pages of books through google books and not do well at all. This helps explain why I pull so many books from a couple years ago off the shelves only to discover that I will be the first person checking it out.

So why is literature a "book field," considering that our undergrads are, I'm pretty sure, only coming in contact with the article portion of our field?

Furthermore, compare literature classes to history classes. Historians assign scholarly books in their courses ---- sometimes more textbooks in the lower divisions, perhaps more "accessible" or trade books in their upper division classes than the latest scholarly monograph, but I have taken history courses and women's studies courses at the graduate level, and it was all about reading the latest stuff to be published or win some prestigious prize, with the occasional "foundational" text or "great classic everybody's gotta read" thrown in.

(and then --- to make things even weirder --- these seminars would sit around and make all these general statements about the book! It was so confusing to me. We could go for 30 minutes with no one pointing us to a specific page, and that confused the hell out of me. Don't even get me started on the class I took that was half sociologists and half lit students, where people constantly were applying what Fanon said to contemporary events in some far-removed place, and I had to stop myself from killing someone! Look, I don't believe you or any of your claims ---- by definition. You have to source everything you say in the text. How can I believe what you say about oppression in East Timor, Mr. Leftier-Than-Thou, when Fanon says nothing about it and you are not bringing any other texts, news reports, or first-hand experience to the table? Gah! Ok, I'll stop ranting.)

But in contrast to my history and ws classes, in my lit classes we read articles, or occasionally book introductions. Or some big classic theory treatise (well, usually we'd have entire classes on _____ theory, of whatever type.) More often it would be a couple theory articles and a couple critical articles each week. And of course, lots of primary texts. I don't think anybody assigned scholarly books or really talked about them. It could be just the place I was at...? And this was the same at the undergrad level. Most all the profs I know would rather squeeze another novel or poetry collection onto the syllabus if they saw they had any room, not put the latest prizewinning book from the 18th Century Nose-Picking Society on there. In fact, I had plenty of profs who put nothing but acres of primary texts on their grad syllabi and expected us to research out all the theory that was being referenced, as well as do some solid critical research for our papers. My department could be an anomaly, I guess.

So why is the "gold standard" in literary studies a book for tenure if we are not assigning them in our classes?

History is a "book field," but at least the book sales are helped a bit by the fact that profs are assigning them as models in their grad classes. You come out with a book on, I don't know, colonial American concepts of transgenderism and people like Tenured Radical and Historiann will have their students buy a couple dozen. You come out with a book with four chapters on Alexander Pope and --- can you even come out with a book like that? I know lots of the reasons given about why projects need to be thought through on this level of scope and depth across a lot of pages (I can disagree with them too) but I was wondering how people justify the system from a publishing and purchasing standpoint.

Just something else to chew on during the Magical Month of Academic Publishing.

(and update: one hour today, yet another paragraph, but I found a bunch more quotes that actually are about the pattern I see over here at the beginning of the novel so maybe I have to add another paragraph. Hmm. So then did I make progress or not today?)

MMAP Update April 20: Inappropriate Cat Love Edition

I don't know why my cats have decided to treat me like their long-lost mother today ---- both are stretched out across my lap right now ---- but it is over 90 degrees (still) in here and today was nothing but hot and sticky and nasty. I do not need 15 pounds times two of hot breathing fur coat on my lap, not today. But I am afraid to actually knock them off my lap because of a funny incident that happened this weekend.

You see, I don't play sports. I am completely uncoordinated. I suck at soccer. And yet, on Saturday, as I was walking into the kitchen and Timido was harassing me (see my pic of Timido hiding behind the theory books), I stepped on him a little and he jumped and swerved, so I swerved to let him go by me, and he swerved again. I ended up juggling his little skull off my shins --- tpok, tpok! went his head like it was hollow --- one after the other, as if I were a soccer champion in some weird alternate game universe that used a living ball. Seriously I would never be able to do that even once if I tried. It was very unfortunate, and he ran off terrified when he was finally able to get around me. I apologized, but now he has taken to running and hiding from me the way he does from visitors and my family when they stop by. So since he is actually hanging out with me, I want to encourage that rather than abject fear, even if it does feel as if I'm being smothered.

Unless the cats know exactly how hot and uncomfortable I am and this is their diabolical plan for revenge? Huh.

MMAP work: one hour rewriting the central paragraph of the old essay up from nothing. Old paragraph: totally gone. New paragraph: done, but will need to be reviewed tomorrow to make sure it is not in some weird secret language that made sense only today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

MMAP Update April 19: Neener Neener

I just want all of you people on the semester system, who have been talking about how you have 9 days or 3 days left of teaching or whatever and soon you will be off on your summer break, that today was a gorgeous day, hot and clear, even at the shore's edge, which made going into the icy, kelp-filled Pacific ocean worthwhile.

I may have 7 more weeks of school left, but my summer is here right now, baby! Hah!

And sure, I could have worked on my article today, but why?

* I forgot my camera so I grabbed some pics similar to my view off the web. And actually I felt guilty so I spent about a half hour tonight typing in all the changes I had made on the draft I printed the other day. I may go swimming at the beach again tomorrow. Yes. Yes indeed.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

MMAP Update April 18: Arrrgh!

People, I am so sick of this essay! Even if you leave aside the fact that it is a part of a dissertation chapter that I had to leave and come back to multiple times before finally excising this part entirely and rewriting it 17 million times before submitting it for publication, all of the fun is gone.

Horace said it perfectly over at To Delight and Instruct ---- while parts of our scholarship may be fun, getting through the whole process is not:
I know the points I want to make, the background material I need to marshal in support, the textual evidence to cite. It's all in my head, and frankly, that part is the fun part for me: the discovery, the new idea, brimming with promise and brilliance, the Eureka that I know will add to the ongoing discussion.

The thing is, the kernal of an idea I could probably express in a page or two: a nice blog post, even. But real scholarship doesn't work like a blog post inasmuchas it is, well, work. Assembling those quotes, and the theatre history, and the theoretical underpinnings, etc. etc.--That's not even a tiny bit of fun to me: it's work.
Yes, that's exactly it! I like finding out stuff and learning new things, but there is a long and tedious road between tossing off a brilliant comment in a seminar and actually making that a well-written, nicely researched, finished, article.

I've learned that, unlike the advice you give grad students with writer's block, I am not allowed to verbally explain my work to other people in a nonthreatening venue. You know how they tell students to go talk it out with fellow grads or send an email to someone as a way of warming up to the writing process? For me, that is the easiest and funnest part of writing and I am very good at it (it's why I gravitate so much to teaching and think I'm good at it). I'm a raconteur, good at spontaneously saying funny little stories and interesting insights. But once I've had the idea and said it, I'm done. I have no impetus to write it up, particularly when that is so much work compared to the ease of shooting my mouth off. So when I go to revise I'm already bored: moving on! I think. I've already had that thought.

Today I've spent about 30 minutes rereading and marking up a newly-printed draft of my article. I'm not sure I should count it as my time since I actually did so little ---- mostly I refamiliarized myself with the whole thing and agreed with my bolded comments to myself. I'm at the stage where the additions have been worked through and largely integrated into the article. That is, all my new points and sources have been inserted where they need to go in the old paragraphs in the right order, and now the whole mess is a bunch of broken-up paragraphs with bolded sections. Where's the fun in that? I've done the work of rethinking and discovery and ordering, and as you can see I'm not doing the work of smoothing and transitioning and closing up the paragraphs because my brain is not invested in this part. The Eureka part is over and now it's just slogging.

Meh. My "tunnel vision" method where I leave a note to myself of the exact paragraph I should look at, which I then start glaring at before I've even had coffee and thus kinda trick myself into getting it fixed and crossed off my list, seems to work better than a more holistic readthrough.

And yesterday? I got about 45 minutes done that consisted solely of writing a single sentence, but since it was lopping off an old topic sentence to replace it with one that connected to the new paragraph that came before, it was worthwhile. Thursday I did nothing --- besides teaching and errands, I got a big pile of community college rejection letters. Looks like I'm not even going to make it to the interview stage for that type of search either. I was feeling low.

Bah. I'd rather think of these stupid transition sentences even rather than that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

MMAP Update April 15: Death and Taxes. Oh, and revisions.

But first, a letter to my cats:

Damn you guys! I am going to kill you! Why must you wake me up with loud mewling at 3 in the morning and then proceed to chase each other around the bedroom? Stop being all nocturnal and eat your food at a regular time rather than turning up your noses at dinner and then demanding fresh new food at 4! You are hereby banished from my room at night, do you hear? Banished!

And now back to the update:

Today was a very long day (up at 6:30 instead of my usual 7 am) and it was a very full day. While I still have an entire kitchen full of filthy dishes and many many things on my to do list (and I'm behind on my class reading), I did get a half hour in on my article revisions. I think at the time I was quite pleased with my work but I don't know right now as it is all a blur after a long day and no sleep and just now some allergy medicine. However I'm looking forward to a nice relaxing weekend and hopefully the wherewithal to get lots of my revising done as next week is not full of meetings and obligations of various kinds.

I'm trying not to collapse right now in the vain hope that I can get myself --- and my stupid cats --- back on our normal sleep schedule. Which involves sleeping at night, not just the evening and after 7 am, guys.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

MMAP Update April 14: It's never too late for some revising!

Something tells me that going hot and cold, hot and cold, is not a good sign when one is trying to work. At least, not physical chills and sweats; psychologically speaking that's a pretty good description of how I sometimes waffle over a stuck part of my own work. Anyway, I did my teaching stuff and a bunch of other things and then went home and slept away the afternoon.

And if this had been any other month I would have pulled out a bad movie and decided to cook something big and fancy and complex and just written off the day. But lo! MMAP, and the knowledge that I would not be able to post an update to my blog, has saved me! Instead, I decided that I should try to do some work anyway, even if it was not very much and of course every one knows that you can't get good work done at 9 pm. I have proven them wrong!

I went and re-read an article I need to cite and typed up piles of crap on it. Maybe took 30-45 minutes. (A side note for those of you playing along at home: guess what? There are good reasons for starting to work through and write about your critics chronologically. Why am I doing the first paragraph last? It's a mystery to me too.)

So I didn't finish writing up that bit, but have refamiliarized myself with the article and written down a lot of things. Tomorrow I will condense it all down to a solid gold brick of critical goodness and explain why, although it is a very wonderful and nice article, it totally left out Highly Important Things which only I have noticed and made an argument about. But that sounds tiring just thinking about it, so I'm going back to bed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

MMAP Update April 13: Publishing Advice from the Professionals

But first, an update: I worked for over an hour today and got another paragraph into good shape. I had wanted to finish the chunks on both of the remaining critics in my "lit review" --- we may need to have a discussion of what exactly a literary lit review is, by the way --- but it seems like one paragraph per day is my top pace. No wonder I have to use the "work-every-single-day" model! I may return to my pile later tonight and get it all organized and ready for first thing tomorrow morning.


If anyone has wondered just what the heck is peer review and what do scholars do when they submit an article, allow me to post some of the essays I have gathered over the years. (The review of the Belcher workbook is forthcoming, but this isn't it.) First of all, over at Historiann, co-editor of the journal Gender and History Ruth Karras gave a very useful guest post on what she expects from a journal submission, what the journal is looking for, and a run-down of the process of journal-editing. Go look ---- and thank you to all you scholars who are trying to demystify the process! (true, you are also probably doing it for yourselves in that you'd rather see more high-quality stuff come in and less bad writing, but we will ignore that now.)

Second, I have a copy of "Demystifying Publishing: The Manuscript Submission, External Review, and Journal Production Process" by Toni Mortimer, which was published in the JOURNAL OF WOMEN’S HISTORY, VOL. 13 NO. 1 (SPRING) 2001. It is a very basic, nuts-and-bolts description of the entire process an article goes through from submission to printing, with handy definitions of everything along the way from refereeing to page proofs. (I suppose I should make that an A to Z right there, but you all know what an abstract is, right? And what Z-related words do we have in publishing? eh?) It has a lot of useful (if depressing) explanation for why publication takes so long to go through, varying from backlogs to special issues to slowpoke reviewers. This article is very helpful --- I would assign it to grad students in seminar hint hint, gee why did no one in my grad program ever once think to do this?

Third, in the category of useful-but-says-a-lot-about-just-how-shitty-this-whole-academic-process-is, I have "Feminist Co-Mentoring: A Model for Academic Professional Development" by GAIL M. MCGUIRE and JO REGER, published in the 2003 NWSA JOURNAL, VOL. 15 NO. 1 (SPRING). While they propose a system of graduate students mentoring each other through the program because it is more egalitarian (and thus feminist in their definition), this is also about them putting a positive spin on having active, overloaded advisors with too many students and no time to spare. There is a difference between encouraging students to be self-reliant and standing them up for meetings or never telling them to publish (or how to do such a thing).

I read the co-mentoring article right about when I was going ABD and now I realize how immensely it shaped my attitudes. I thought, yeah, I didn't get jack for attention, no one seems to get their advisor's attention, but if I want to get ahead in academia I need to just teach it to myself or get my fellow grads to teach it with me. It has a lot to do with all the groups and symposia and workshops I helped organize in my department, it has a lot to do with why I read academic web sites and blogs (unfortunately this has become a bit of an obsession), and it has structured a lot of why and how I blog. Thing is, looking at it from here, I notice that I did a lot of work and gave a lot of good advice to people who never in turn "stepped up" to help me out. And there are people in the department who have very responsive advisors who really pull strings to get their students connected, but none of that info or influence ever got handed back to me. In fact most of them never even told me they were getting additional, special help or being introduced and recommended to people who were putting together an essay collection, for example. So now that most of them have gone on to jobs or gotten job offers recently and I have not gotten anything, not even interviews, I'm feeling kinda bitter and turned off by the whole collaborative help in academia idea.

The other thing I notice is that the people who are writing advice and publishing how-to-professionalize articles and really attempting to help and mentor grad students are coming out of feminism/women's studies. Coincidence? And also a lot from history --- is this because women in history departments feel there is more need to bring women into their discipline and mentor them? (Is there a literary-studies "how to publish things" article? Just cause I haven't seen one doesn't mean that it hasn't been published. And what does it mean if there isn't one?)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

MMAP Challenge Update April 12: Slow, so slow!

Well my cats kept waking me up last night with their leaping about and jumping on my head, and so today has been a very slow day, involving lots of internet procrastination and promises that I will eventually get off my butt and deal with my to-do list. On the plus side, though, since I put in about an hour of work on my R&R first thing in the morning, my slothfulness is not so bad. I polished up a paragraph so it looks pretty good. Of course, that's way less progress than I had hoped, but I need to be okay with my pace, I think, and not beat myself up over it. Slow progress is still progress, and if I had slept in I would not even have that paragraph done.

The other good news is that I remembered exactly what I was working on yesterday, so with everything fresh in my mind I feel I'm jumping right back in and not having to spend a long time refamiliarizing myself with my tasks (or my argument). So the little-bit-every-day is really helpfull. Of course we all knew that, just like we know we should eat right and exercise every day.

Speaking of, I went grocery shopping and brought home something that is kryptonite to cogs --- blue corn chips and salsa. I have no willpower when it comes to this stuff, and therefore never bring it in the house. I've spent most of the afternoon sitting here munching away on it. So I ask you, the Internets: can I count that for my dinner? And if so, can I follow it up with some of the ice cream I bought as dessert?

I don't know why I still pay for the pilates/spin class, people.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The MMAP Challenge Begins!

Hooray! Many people are participating in the Magical Month of Academic Publishing Challenge, in whatever capacities are most vital to them at the moment (I see a lot of people working at finishing up dissertations or diss chapters --- go go go !). Grad students/newly minted PhDs are especially encouraged to try out the challenge, as we know the least about publishing and publications are just going to be more and more important for the job market these days.

Thanks to Inktopia for providing these lovely buttons! You can add them to your blog sidebar to remind yourself and everybody else that you are dividing and conquering and rocking on getting those articles written and worked up into publishable form.

Today I have moved around a lot of sections and outlined their current configuration. Maybe later tonight I will go back through the Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks book and work up my own to-do list and plan. (Yes, review still forthcoming!) I'm reminded, as I always am, that 20 minutes of concentrated effort on the revisions works much better than locking myself in the library all day --- I cleaned house and washed dishes and went for a walk with Cool Scientist Friend after moving around sections on paper, and then just now came back for another 20 minutes of work now that I'm tired and my arms hurt from all the scrubbing. Of course, I'd run out of intense housecleaning if I tried to use it as a writing break every day. On the other hand, I might be able to supplement my income by hiring myself out to other grad students or even just the general public --- you'd just have to give me a half an hour or so in your home office, writing, before and after I housecleaned. Hmm. Might pay better than adjuncting.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spring Writing Challenge!

You know, National Novel Writing Month is fine and all, (adapted for academics as International Dissertation Writing Month by some), but November is just a sucky time for it. Not only is it dark and cold and depressing, but I couldn't participate in the 2008 challenge because I was spending all my energy on job applications. (for 2007 info and my participation, click here.)

Therefore I bring you a new challenge! Or me, I bring me a new challenge. Or just need to get off the damn couch and stop sleeping every afternoon it rains. Anyway, challenge! Yes. Not a challenge as in, I hereby challenge you to a duel to the death, but as in, there is nothing like a little friendly competition and communal no-pain-no-gain to get you started and to keep you moving.

And thus, da tada! The Magical Month of Academic Publishing Challenge 2009! (Could someone make me a button for MMAP Challenge 2009? Preferably with a fancy rainbow motif? I no longer have a working image manipulating program. Alas.)

The Timeline: from April 10 to May 10, one Magical Month. (No, why bother waiting until a nice round number or the first of a month? We've got to go now now now! And yes, the "magical" theme might be better for March Madness, but I didn't have the idea then ok? Ferchrissakes.)

The Challenge: Choose a chapter, previously rejected or R&R paper, conference paper, old seminar paper, or other lump of prose you really want to revise and send out for publication. Commit to revising it for the month of April-plus-a-little-bit and make concrete plans to work on it at least 15 minutes per day. (An hour would be ideal, but make sure to at least read over and do some little edits every day.) Post your effort to your blog (notice I did not say progress) and encourage your fellow challenge-ees.

The Benefits: At the end of a month you will have an article much closer to publication, if not ready to send out even, and have the boost of confidence that running a race working steadily away at a project can give! (Ok, a month is not 12 weeks, and I'm doubtful that the Belcher workbook can actually bring you all the way to publication in just 12 weeks, but it's still a big chunk of progress baby!)

The Drawbacks: What, that you'll have completed a huge amount of work on your article? That you'll have something ready to send out for publication? Sure, it may get rejected --- that's the name of the academic game! Deal! That you'll have lost a whole hour of facebook time every day for a month or be seriously deprived for naps? Buck up people and get cracking! Go go go!

Who's with me?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Book Review Post Forthcoming

My typical way of procrastinating is to be unproductive by obsessively researching productivity tips and systems. So it is no surprise whatsoever that earlier this week I ordered and just received a copy of this:

I'll let you know if I think it's worth buying once I've read through it. Typically I expect this kind of stuff to be so quantitative and social science-based as to not be useful for literary study. But I am hopeful that it will be worth my money, even if it will not revise my essay for me. (Oooh, maybe someone has programmed a robot to do that for me! I'll go look on the Roomba hack forums.)

Even if it's not helpful I hope it will inspire me to revise a little harder for a while; you know, kinda like how you can always keep to a new diet system for the first few weeks of novelty. The nice thing about writing projects is if you get bored with the system and fall off the wagon you won't be endangering your health with yo-yo dieting, and you will actually have a chunk written afterwards, whereas you don't keep any of your dieting efforts if you put the weight back on.

I also have all of Boice's books on academic productivity and the Germano books on revising your dissertation into a book if anyone is interested in me doing other writing and academic productivity book reviews. I just returned a bunch of books on writing and writing journals to the library, finding them not very helpful. See, it's kinda like my hobby! A weird, sick, messed-up hobby, to be sure. But what interests of mine aren't?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Grumble grumble...

The only thing worse than having a stack of grading is having a stack of grading leftover from last quarter.

Ever do this? And think it is a brilliant idea? You know, where you tell students that if they want their final papers they will need to make an appointment the following quarter to come pick it up? Yes, it is a wonderful way to ease the grading load at the end of the term --- make a few cryptic pencil marks, leave a few post-its, and stack it in a pile with papers of similar quality, and you have saved yourself the time and effort of writing up extensive end comments on something that no one will ever look at again.

Except that then you do get a pile of requests to get papers and questions from students who want to know "how you liked it." Not the whole class, but enough of 'em. I seem to be getting more of them these days. Smack in the middle of beginning-quarter craziness. But you know you have to do this now, because if you hold it off until the first stack of this quarter's papers come in, you will be screwed and want only to die.

Grumble grumble grumble grah. Remind me to bring last quarter's reader back in so I can check up on a few things in this paper. Spring break is not long enough. Right here, this is what makes the quarter system suck. Pththhththtptp!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Knitting the raveled sleeve of something-or-other

Still revising. Bleah. Someone who had agreed to see the outline of my argument couldn't decide based on that and asked to see the actual draft. Uh, draft? It's not really in "draft" form any more. Consider that the previous suggestions I've been given were to integrate the critics and rearrange the essay structure. So I broke it open and started stuffing things into the various seams, and then moved everything around and now it's not really in a state where anyone but me could read it and understand what is going on. (bolded questions to myself that include "YOU IDIOT" and "What The Hell Was I Thinking Back When I Wrote This" don't really help either.)

It's like --- do you know anybody who knits things? When they have a mistake that they discover way back in their work they have to rip it all back to that point and then re-knit it over. They call this "frogging," according to the internet. Well I don't really knit but I figure that's gotta be a good way for describing how I'm revising things at this point, with the assumption that anybody who's ripping back large chunks of their knitting will have a huge tangly mess of unknitted crap covering their whole lap as they try to figure out where they are exactly in the pattern and if they have actually made it back to the mistake yet. I figure my "draft" looks a lot like this:

Yup, somebody told this person that they forgot to make a yellow square in that pattern and now s/he has made a huge ol' mess getting rid of stuff (see the tangle) which s/he now has to untangle in order to splice some of that yellow stuff in.

Actually, I don't think this pic quite captures the sense of sheer messiness and defeat that I feel when confronting my revision, any of my revisions. Maybe this one?

Mmm, no. Really I need to find a pic where the knitter has managed to knit herself to the sofa and is completely aswirl in loose yarn and can't find the spot in the project she needs to fix. And there are cats stuck in there somewhere, unable to move because of all the tangled strings. So, maybe its not like all the knitters I found blogging about knitting on the web, but something infinetely worse. I'll start looking through the museum of torture websites to find a more appropriate metaphor tomorrow.

Right now, (sigh) it's back to the untangling.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Help Sisyphus with her Achilles heel

No wonder I avoided my revise-and-resubmit in favor of the cc job market and teaching my classes! Returning to it after several months (well, ok, a lot of months) has given me a new clarity of perspective on it. As in, it is blindingly obvious to me that I am stuck, where as before I was merely sure of it.

As always, my difficulty is with organization: I feel I need to put everything first and logically you just can't do that with writing, which is linear, not simultaneous (Derrida's Glas notwithstanding). The readers pointed out that my essay is too bifurcated into a historical background section and a close reading, which is true. It has been almost impossible to interlace the two and have it make sense. But that's not even my problem right now.

I've hit a snag with my ending. To wit, I have three major characters I want to discuss (a love triangle, in fact) and I have no clue which I should discuss first. It's kinda the opposite of my usual problem --- normally I need everything to be first so that it can introduce the other stuff. This time, it doesn't seem to matter which comes first (which hints to me that I haven't actually hit upon my real argument yet, as I usually think of all the steps in an essay being necessarily developing from one to the next, which worries me but doesn't help me get unstuck).

Anywhoo, I just wrote up a short abstract of the essay and a choose-your-own-adventure type breakdown of my ending(s). Anybody who knows me want to take a gander at it and put in a vote on the order? I'm hoping that talking this all out will unstick me.