February 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
A few insights from a recent workshop lead by Edward Dimenberg on academic publishing. Writing scholarly monographs is a creative process. ED uses the term « creative scholar » to describe the intersection between creative writing and scholarship crafting. The myth of the romantic author who inspired by a muse transcribes from scratch complex works is seriously harmful. « Ask senior colleagues how do they write » he suggests, betting that the answer will include a surprising array of idiosyncratic responses reflecting how brilliant minds work, but a very dull list of common concerns. They will all stress in one way or another the importance of having a daily routine, that writing less often is much better than writing a lot sporadically, and that leaving the page in a middle of a paragraph, or even a sentence is much more powerful than trying to end in hard stops such as the end of chapters or sections. Leaving writing mid-sentence is the best way to avoid writer’s block and the time it would take otherwise to start again.
ED stresses that a scholarly monograph requires sacrifices and both to discipline one-self to ignore the call of the sirens that become louder the longer one spends working on a manuscript, and also a work-life balance to keep one’s sanity and energy. I will add what Sabina Berman once told me, « You always need a group of fierce bouncers to keep out all fascinating digressions that will show up uninvited to your writing process. » Wallace Stegner points out that the difference between an amateur and a professional writer is only the quality of their re-writes: all drafts are similar! One should be able to distinguish between what is interesting and what advances our argument. What is interesting should be caught off, and placed in a folder for later. Lastly, for ED time is of the essence. As Jacques Lacan pointed out « There is no creativity without a sense of urgency. »
In the humanities, scholars are less aware of their method, which is in fact what makes most of the value of their work as it is not the what but the how that advances the discipline. A crucial task is to find, construct and keep a writing network of 2-3 people you respect and with whom to exchange creative and constructive criticism. This group doesn’t necessarily needs to match your tribe, or need to be willing to take responsibility for you or even accept your work as part of their field. « Find 3-4 books that you think yours might look like, would save a lot of misunderstandings when talking to editors, and also when figuring out fields, sub-fields and search keywords you want to include in yours.»
Editors don’t want to publish something that is available out there. As a rule of thumb, from one article/chapter to a maximum of 25 percent of a book may have been pre-published in the form of an article, or dissertation, never more.