Writing about Writing

This is going to be an odd post where I introduce my topic, explain my reaction, realize the inaccuracies, change my comment, and then proceed almost to interview myself while I talk about writing for academia. I’m going to do it on a blog that I maintain (the first of my professional blogs, though not the last), in a public forum where anyone who finds their way to TCE and wants to, can read it. I will be truthful, sometimes being as forthright as nails on a chalkboard, and I will attempt to explain one person’s journey (and which parts of it you might want to replicate) to becoming a published academic author.

This post started here:
While looking for something else on my blog, I came upon a post which intrigued me. Yes, my own writings can catch my attention. On June 15, 2009 I wrote:

You know, I don’t even know what academic publications are.

When I found it again this last week, I commented on that post:

Wow. It seems that my PhD program left something out of my education and I left something out of my pressing into becoming an “active” professional in the field of college teaching (writing, presenting, and publishing).

From June 15, 2009 to November 12, 2011 I have had multiple publications. I have seventeen other articles written which have not been published.

Maybe I should write a blog post on this.

But the first was hyperbole (or perhaps emotion) and as I was reviewing posts, I saw that.

Publish or Don’t Get Hired was written in April and I already had several things written, some published, and others in the works. So I edited the comment to be more accurate.

But I still think it warrants a post.
The interview that started all the writing, letting me know where I was going wrong, was discussed here, though for some reason I didn’t write as much about the lack of publications as I thought I had.

How did I have no publications?
Having managed to leave my graduate school without a published paper (something uncommon now), without even a paper sent out to a journal, I continued on my merry academic way without publications. This was twenty years ago when publication wasn’t a factor in hiring, at least at my colleges, but could be a factor in pay. I taught for four years, with no noise at all made about the need to write or even to attend conferences.

After four years as an instructor in a tenure-track opening (which would convert upon completion of my dissertation), I left academia for other responsibilities. Those responsibilities took advantage of all my learning and all my energies and I didn’t pursue a full-time academic career in higher education for eighteen years. I certainly didn’t continue the conference presenting I had already begun (five national, three regional, two local in five years). Publications didn’t even enter the synapses as a random ghost of an idea.

Why was that a problem?
Attempting to re-enter the academic workspace, after that eighteen-year hiatus dedicated to my family, with voluntary adjunct experience in the final eight, I learned that teaching–what I thought college professorship was or should be all about–did not matter, even at community colleges and teaching universities. Instead presentations and publications, preferably with a one-to-one correspondence, were the criteria for hiring.

At all the colleges where I interviewed a teaching demonstration was expected. I believe this is true even for R1s, though my experience was limited to teaching colleges, since that was my goal. However, while the teaching demonstration was required, something else was needed to win the job lottery. That something was published writing with the candidate’s name on it.

How did I figure it out?
While I was not too thrilled with the screaming chair (okay, the loud and not happy chair), she did give me a neon sign which told me what direction I needed to be moving if I hoped to change my employment status. I am very grateful for that. And as an associate dean, when I did ft work for pt pay at that university, she was a relentless advocate for faculty in and to the administration.

Okay. So now I know I need to be writing. What do I need to be writing?
This was harder. I looked online at CV’s. What were people who had jobs in academia writing?

Here, I will confess, being an English professor was easier than, for example, being in a STEM field. An English professor can publish a poem. That counts. But a chemist who has been out of work for eighteen years can’t just start doing research in her kitchen.

(I don’t think that makes the humanities less rigorous, just different.)

The first advice I found was to write reviews. Okay, that’s good advice. But reviews of what?

After doing some googling, I found an online journal that was asking for reviews of small press poetry books. So I googled a small press, read through the press releases, and chose a book to order and read. I liked the work, which I considered miraculous, and wrote a review within a week of receiving the book in the mail. It was published about a week after its reception, in a particularly wonderful–though not as rare in my experience as in others’–fortuitous kairotic moment.

So you wrote a bunch of reviews?
I didn’t write another review for three years. (The first was published in December 2008 for the “Winter 2009” edition of the journal.)
Why not?
1. I didn’t find any other calls for reviews in the same way I found the first.
2. I did find other writing opportunities.

What other writing opportunities? And how did you find them?
I found a host of other writing opportunities, including some which actually paid me real money, in the form of a non-bouncing check, for writing completed.

I found them via calls for papers on UPenn and H-net.

Update: I began this post almost a year ago. And this was where I left it. I don’t know that I want to finish it now, but I still want to publish it. So I guess I may consider it finished. Or I may write more on the topic later.

Notes on my publications:
I have one textbook published.
I have one textbook that is digital and will be published by January.
I have a contract for publishing my dissertation, if I finish the revisions and get it to them by December.
I have ten articles published in academic journals, though most are not anywhere near top tier. I have one more in R&R.
I have four chapters which have been accepted and one of which has been published by Routledge.
I have one encyclopedia entry which was accepted and is supposed to be published. (Two others were accepted but those encyclopedias were never published.)
I have five reviews published, one that finished R&Rs, and one that got lost in all the other work I was doing and never got written.
I have eleven poems or poetry collections published in different literary journals or academic journals that include poetry.

I still have about 17 articles which I wrote but which were not published.

I still think they are pretty decent and I will still send them out, if I find somewhere to send them to.

What am I thinking now?
I got a grant to create a textbook for the iPad. They paid me for 90 hours of work. I’ve done at least double that and am nowhere near finished. But when I am done the book, whether anyone else ever really cares or not, will be the culmination of years of love I lavished on my early Brit lit classes. (And some great ideas garnered from my humanities class.)

Other than the textbook for the iPad, I haven’t done a lot this last six months. I need to do the R&R for the article, even though it is past the date when they asked for its return. I need to do the revisions on my dissertation, because that will definitely help me get tenure. But I don’t know when I will have time to do that.

I’ve done two conferences this semester, both regional, and I have none next semester, because of the focus on the textbook and teaching.

I know, now, that I can’t keep that low level and still expect to find work or get work or keep work. So I’m going to have to figure out a way to become more focused on writing again, without letting my teaching go by the wayside. I’m not sure how I am going to do that with four preps next semester, but I’m going to try.

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