Greetings, lovely people! Finding time to write can be challenging when your job and personal/home life keeps you busy, but we writers find a way!
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with a high school English class about contemporary Native Americans, which is related to my specialty of Indigenous Rhetorics. Showing these students such indigenous meaning makers as stand-up comics, fashion designers, and musicians was absolutely delightful.
Another aspect of my faculty position is a requirement to write for publication. For promotions, we are required to write academic essays that appear in scholarly journals that are often only accessible if you have access to the paywall, usually through a university library. Although I enjoy writing in this genre, I enjoy my public writing even more because I have the opportunity to investigate more subjects that are important to me and because public writing has a much bigger audience. One of the reasons I am a writer is because I enjoy having others read my writing, so the bigger the audience, the better! My latest post on Feministing discusses the importance of women embracing our ages to fight the national narrative that women aren’t allowed to age.
Finally, one of my greatest joys is teaching. My students consistently bring equal measures of joy and fear, and excitement and trepidation to their writing practice, which in turn enlivens and informs my teaching practice. Every student teaches me something and I strive to bring this accumulation of knowledge to all of my classrooms and workshops. If you would like the opportunity to work with me, I will be teaching the Creative Nonfiction workshop at the Murphy Writing of Stockton University’s Poetry and Prose Getaway this January 2016 in New Jersey. It is a wonderfully supportive and productive weekend and I hope to meet you there!
This post is just for those of you in grad school or who are going on the academic job market this year. (If you are a fellow academic or a grad student, please share this widely. This advice is important.)
(For the rest of you, academia has a “job season” and it’s right now through May of 2016. For academic professionals in English Studies, Writing, Rhetoric, Literacy Studies and the like, job ads went out in early September, application deadlines loom around November, and in-person interviews will be held at the MLA Conference in Austin in January. Oh and by the way, if you are lucky enough to score one of these interviews, you’ll have to get yourself to Austin on your own dime – no reimbursement from any source. Assuming you make it through the MLA interview gauntlet, then you wait to find out if you’ve made the top three list – those get on-campus interviews between Feb and April. And then you wait to find out if you got a job offer. You might not know this until mid-May. No stress in this process at all. Nope. None. *sarcasm*)
So…you’re going on the academic job market. You seek a tenure-track position at either a research university or a teaching university. Great.
You’ve likely got some killer teaching experience and great student evaluations and solid faculty observations.
I bet you’ve also got some kick-ass administrative and committee service, too.
And, of course, you’ve either written and defended your dissertation or you will have this done by next fall in time to begin a job.
What’s missing from this picture?
Here’s the answer to the missing piece of this applicant picture: Publications.
How many encyclopedia entries and book reviews have you written and published in scholarly outlets? You should probably have at least one of each by now.
Do you have an article under review at a scholarly peer-reviewed journal? No?
If you are like some of my friends, you are scared. You are afraid of pulling the trigger on your own publication path because you feel like a student and not a professor.
But you’re at the jumping off point. It’s time to put that fear aside. That fear of looking foolish, not being accepted, being laughed at, being rejected – it’s time to ignore it. Fear is the ultimate enemy of success and if your objective is to land a tenure-track job at ANY university or college in this job climate? You damn well better have an academic article in the publishing pipeline somewhere. Under review is good. Getting a “revise and resubmit” request is better. Actually revising and resubmitting that piece is better still. And accepted for publication is the best yet.
If you are going on the job market and don’t have any of these essentials, take a breath.
Breathe. I can see you hyperventilating. Breathe.
Find a journal in your field. Now go to Amazon and find a book in your field that was JUST published (filter by publication date – most recent). Now email the journal editor and ask to write a review of that book. Tell the editor that you will submit that review by November 1. Chances are good the editor will agree. Once she does, you add that line to your CV – book review in process, due Nov. 1. You’ll have to buy the book because it takes too long to get the review copy from the publisher (but keep this in mind for next time). When you get the book, read the intro, the first two chapters, the final chapter, and one more chapter that is most interesting to you. Write the book review and submit it on time. Now you can change the CV line to “under review” at that specific journal. That counts.
At the same time you are doing the above, pick a chapter from your diss that can easily be re-worked into a shorter article. Find a journal in your field. Revise that chapter into article form and length according to that journal’s guidelines. Compose a cover email and submit your chapter-turned-article ASAP. You will get a confirmation email that the editor received it and will get back to you. Now you can add a line on your CV with the title of the article and the journal with that lovely parenthetical (under review).
(I can hear the complaints. But I have classes! But I have to teach! But I have to finish my diss! Yes. And you want a job, correct? Well then. Get on it.)
If you’re still feeling saucy and ambitious, find a web site, blog, or zine – write and submit a guest post on a subject related to your field but also applicable for the audience of said online outlet. Once it is published (and this will happen quickly), add that as a publication credit on your CV. It’s not as impressive as the scholarly stuff, but it shows you are writing and contributing to the broader conversation and are committed to such conversations. That counts.
Without at least one significant scholarly publication (in progress), you are not competitive in this job market. I would give you a hug of consolation if I could. I’ve seen too many good, smart, and talented people lose out on jobs and interviews because they didn’t have any publishing agenda or record. Please believe me, I speak the truth. If your committee did not push you to publish, shame on them. You need to show you are an active new scholar committed to your field and the only way to do that is through publications.
Best of luck in this journey and feel free to share your stories in the comments. You will find me a very sympathetic audience.
When we think of labor, we often think about unions and steamfitters and autoworkers and construction crews. What about writers?
Writing is labor, too.
Sitting down to write an essay or fiction story or poem or annual report or academic grant may not require you to wear steel-toed boots and get your hands dirty, but there are many forms of labor.
Writing is intellectual labor. Paying attention to your world, tapping into your experiences and memories, researching an unfamiliar culture or practice, thinking about how this sentence can be turned and changed and altered until it sounds like the sweetest tuning fork – that is labor.
Writing is emotional labor. Crafting a story or essay about a personal experience requires feeling that moment all over again, tears and anger and laughter and all. Writing can be cathartic, but the emotions drawn up from the deep well often set us back, makes us think and reconsider, and might even prevent the words from coming to the surface.
Writing is imaginative labor. Imagining a place or a person that doesn’t exist requires a great deal of creativity. Imagining that place or person that doesn’t exist and being able to render that place and person as realistic is an even greater feat. Our imaginations work hard to re-create scenes from the past where the details are now fuzzy – we must imagine them into clarity while being honest and truthful in their representation. We imagine ideas coming to life in tactile form, spinning out of our brains and through our fingertips onto the page or screen. We imagine. And it is exhausting and exhilarating and time-consuming.
And unlike these other, more tangible and visible, forms of labor? Writing is labor that never, ever stops. We don’t work from 6 – 2 or 9 – 5 five days a week. We writers mull ideas over as we watch mindless reality TV, gaze at the garden with a cup of coffee cooling in our hands, and sit in traffic on the way to work. A writer’s mind never stops, never shuts off, never quiets. It is always seeking, thinking, searching, connecting.
That is the beauty and curse of being a writer. Our labor is a 24/7 operation, but we thrive on those flashes of insight that come from the constant hum of ideas rolling around in our imaginations as they collide with daily experiences seen and observed. We love that moment of startling clarity when we know just the right words to use in that scene or ending.
Writers labor, and deserve to be paid for this labor that brings the world fresh stories, new ideas, and original insights.
In response to my crowdsource request for “the best writing advice you have to offer,” here are the results, with a few of my own thrown in for good measure. Because advice is always best when passed along. :)
1. “Revising is easier than writing. Start somewhere. Anywhere.”
2. “Ever see the film A River Runs Through It? Tom Skerritt is the boys’ father and is teaching them how to write. His son comes in with an essay, Skerritt marks it up, hands it back and says “Half as long.” I’ve always been a fan of concision. (Just not in this comment.) There’s also a book!”
3. “Write what you know. Simple, classic, and true.” (The classics never go out of style!)
4. “Most of the best writing concerning our given topic normally comes at the end. For example, that aha! moment happens more often than not at the end of the paper/essay and it is where the real creative parts of your thoughts begin. If you are struggling with an essay because of a lack of substantial information, or really trying to rethink your thesis, Start at the end. Find that part where your thoughts really coalesce. Once you find that spot, start from there and REWRITE. I can’t stress the idea of “rewriting.” Rewriting as not as starting over, but a way of restating exactly what it is you are trying to say in the first place. In doing so, you create something new. The end is often the beginning and the best part of your writing! I have used this every time I struggle and it has helped tremendously every time I am stuck or revising.”
5. “Breathe, [insert your name here]. Breathe.”
6. “I find I get the best results by trying to weave together two ideas; call it the Reese’s Theory. It lends the prose a complexity and depth and sometimes generates that elusive unplanned creativity – you know, ‘Wow, did I write that?’ It also helps me to concentrate on the idea content instead of the style. As advice goes, perhaps it is not all that useful to others, but in that instance when you struggle to decide between two equally compelling concepts – I say, try using them both!”
7. “Not only does the First Draft of something NOT have to be perfect, but it doesn’t even have to be GOOD. It is a “Zero Draft,” and once you have gotten it out of the way, you can comfortably begin.” (I love this idea of a “Zero Draft.” It would make writing it a lot less intimidating, I suspect.)
8. There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to writing. Polished, clean prose? Yes. Well-written, well-structured, and well-organized? Absolutely. Perfect? No way. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to achieve “perfect.” Stop chasing the unicorn.
9. “Think of writing in small chunks or “islands.” Then writing doesn’t seem so big and scary.” (I now do this with almost everything I write and it really works!)
10. “Always end your writing for the day in the middle of a thought or a paragraph. It cuts down on writer’s block the next day, because you know exactly where to begin.”
11. “Give yourself the space and time to write. Schedule it, and prep your writing space accordingly.”
12. “Speak from the heart when you write.” (Another variation of this excellent advice is to spill your guts on the page. I love that. And it really does result in prose that other people want to read.)
13. “Do 3-5 minutes of freewriting right before you begin your writing session. Sketch out the scene you are going to write or the next part of your article. It will put you in the right mindset so you can dive right in instead of facing that blinking cursor cold.”
And because I’m not superstitious in the least, I’m leaving it at 13. Now what are you waiting for? Go tackle that writing project! :)
I’m over on Teaching Tolerance this week with my suggestions for high school teachers who typically teach Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. Check it out!
Also, a quick report on the New Hampshire Writing and Publishing Retreat that just ended yesterday (Friday, August 21, 2015):
I’m so proud of my participants. I love helping writers come out of the shadows and into the light and this week was no different. These folks worked in teams of two to do global and local edits on one piece of prose (either fiction or nonfiction) that they brought with them. I taught them where to find great places to publish their work and how to critically analyze both the journals and the submission guidelines in order to make better and more accurate selections. Finally, I taught them about elevator pitches and cover letters, both of which they practiced, revised, and perfected before submitting their one piece to three different journals that they researched and selected. They hit “SUBMIT” together yesterday morning and we celebrated mightily. As one woman said, “My heart is pounding so hard!” It was an exciting moment as these writers stepped into the publishing pipeline for the first time. These are the moments that make my heart sing as a writing teacher and coach.
Lastly, a heads-up: I will be teaching a basic creative nonfiction writing workshop with Murphy Writing of Stockton University this January in New Jersey. If you want to learn how to write this flexible and exciting genre, as well as have ample time to create new pieces, consider joining me! I will also be available to do one-on-one tutorials if you want some personal help! Click here for more information (registration opens September 4):
Fellow writers! Please join me for a delightful summer writing vacation this August in New Hampshire. If you write fiction or nonfiction and feel like the publishing industry is this intimidating monolith out there…put those fears aside and come work with me for a week. Better yet, find a writer friend and come together! I promise to change your mind and show you that you CAN publish your work! Join me and learn how to make every writer’s (publishing) dream come true. I will show you the way.
Here’s the official description for my workshop and the link to the web site for more information is below. Hope to see you in New Hampshire! – Amanda
Writing and Publishing Retreat
Most writers want to publish their work, but too many stop short of the final goal due to lack of know-how and fear of rejection. This interactive workshop will support and encourage you as you deepen your understanding of the publishing process. Whether you are writing fiction, memoir, creative nonfiction or personal essays, you will gain confidence and coaching on how to publish your writing including:
Knowing what your audience and the market want
Locating ideal outlets for work—literary journals, small presses, blogs, magazines, regional publications, etc.—and learning how to match your writing to their submission guidelines
Learning how to write an effective cover letter and elevator pitch
Understanding how to build an online platform that will impress agents and editors
Bring your laptop or tablet and a work-in-progress (up to 3,000 words) to put through the stages of revision while learning how to navigate the business of publishing. Before the retreat ends, you will submit your finished piece to one of the markets you evaluated during the week. Once you know how to approach this mysterious industry, it will be a mystery no more. Your work is almost ready, so let’s get it published.
Limited to 12 participants—Led by Amanda Morris
“As a first-time attendee, I was very impressed. My workshop leader, Amanda Morris, was full of energy, interesting, encouraging and inspiring. I would come back just for her, but I very much enjoyed the whole experience!”
~ Susan, Newtown, PA
Live Free and Write Summer Getaway for Writers (all details here, including price, dates, etc)
Each week, check this Monday posting for a selection of current calls for submissions, good writing advice from the interwebs, and legit writing job listings. Fear less, do more.
Calls for Submissions
Lunch Ticket, a literary journal from the MFA community at Antioch University in LA, seeks submissions for its Summer/Fall 2015 issue (Deadline April 30). According to the editor’s note, “Lunch Ticket’s mission is to publish work by under-privileged and under-represented voices, to promote social justice through publishing without hesitation or apology meritorious work that challenges the toxic status quo of oppression.” For this issue, they will consider fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, writing for young people, translations, and visual art. Check out their submission guidelines here:
And now, something for my academic writers out there. You know who you are. Maybe you are a grad student who wants an academic publishing credential for the next step or for a new job…or you already have the job and you now need to start producing and cranking out those scholarly journal articles for tenure and promotion. This article from The Guardian has some good tips and insights. And remember, publishing as an academic isn’t just for fun – your job depends on it, so it’s best to figure out how to do it and then get to work as soon as possible.
Now this sounds like a fun job: Business Publications Writer for AAA East Central. Located in Pittsburgh, PA, the position requires a writer with a BA, proficiency with MS Office, and the ability to work independently. Job responsibilities will include research, writing and editing, collaboration, generating new ideas, photographing club events and assisting with executive speeches. Sounds pretty cool, eh? And I can vouch for Pittsburgh being a great place to live, work, and play – I grew up there. :)
No matter what you do for a living, chances are extremely high that you write on the job. Did you know that companies spend over $3 billion a year helping their employees learn how to write better? That’s a lot of scratch. And just because your boss hasn’t brought in a pro like me to help you improve your writing skills doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on them. Why is that?
Because writing is considered a threshold skill that often determines whether you get promoted. Employers want employees who can write well, bottom line. You may get hired with average or sub-par skills because your expertise in other areas is extraordinary, but without showing improvement, chances are you won’t be tapped to move up the ladder.
What to do? Obviously, a single blog post about this issue should not be the end of your journey as you seek to improve your on-the-job writing skills. Start by making a list of all the written documents you produce on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. An annual report is only written once a year, but you send emails every day. And if your inbox looks anything like mine, you have my sympathies.
The important thing to remember is to be clear, concise, and professional in all written communication, and that includes being a prolific proofreader BEFORE you send that document on its way. When you look at that list of writing you regularly produce, you should quickly realize that you need to allow for time to revise and proofread.
I recently asked my students how many of them proofread written projects before they turn them in for grades. Very few hands went up. Then I asked them how many proofread emails before sending them. Three quarters of the room raised their hands. I asked them what the difference was. They said with emails, someone on the other end cares what it says and how it is constructed.
As a writing professor, this is fascinating to me. We actually discussed it because I enjoy hearing students’ perspectives on such differences and the distinctions they make when writing. To me, their perception that professors don’t care about their written projects speaks volumes about how we handle writing across the university – and it doesn’t speak well. But also interesting was their distinct awareness that emails within and without the university setting matter more.
So imagine how important those emails are that YOU send every single day. If you aren’t proofreading every email, then you are missing out on an opportunity and are not giving this important and common form of communication its due.
Let’s fix that. Here are four tips to help you write stronger, clearer, and more professional emails at work:
1. Lead with a proper greeting that includes the correct use (and spelling) of the recipient’s name (Dear John, Good day Dr. Stevens, Good morning Susan) Sidebar: Note that I did not include a comma to set off the direct address in these greetings. Rules such as these are quickly being dropped in our modern world, and in emails, the non-comma form of direct address has become common. Grammar Underground has a good piece on this phenomenon. So if you just cringed at my lack of commas in the direct addresses, I would advise you to relax and adapt. :)
2. Be specific. People are busy, so respect their time and get right to the point of WHY you are writing. Don’t ramble, or lead in with a long explanation or background about the problem or situation. If you want to meet about something, then ask for the meeting (Good morning John! I’d like to meet next week to discuss (topic). Please let me know a good time on Tuesday or Wednesday that works for you. Thanks much!) You can verbally provide that background in the meeting. Or better yet, provide a handout with a bullet point list.
3. See #2. Ask for action. Say thank you.
4. Proofread for spelling, misused words, unclear statements, and punctuation errors. Fix those before hitting send.
If you follow these four simple tips with EVERY email you write, your written communication will improve tenfold, your recipients will no longer be annoyed with your emails, and your boss will think better of you. Try it today!