Special Post: So you’re going on the academic job market

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 2015. 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 Vancouver 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 Vancouver 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.

Great.

What’s missing from this picture?

Any guesses?

I’ll wait.

Give up?

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.

Midweek Writing Prompt: Frozen Moment (9/17/14)

In my classrooms and workshops, I strive to create safe, welcoming writing communities where individuals feel free to explore ideas, stories, and concepts without judgment. After all, we need those spaces to get started. The judgment – of editors, professors, critical friends – will come later. But in the beginning, we need that soft, friendly embrace where anything is possible and everyone loves you. Let’s go there together.

When my schedule allows, I will post writing prompts for you to play with. I encourage you to write something and to share those initial efforts in the comment section, or even your response to the prompt – tell us what happened when you sat down to write. After all, some of these prompts will lead you down a path toward publication – I’ve seen that happen often enough to be confident in that statement.

Give it a try! :)


 

Writing Prompt: Frozen Moment

Think about a photo in your cell phone. Maybe it’s something you snapped today or last week or last year. But it is one image that comes immediately to mind when you read these directions. Now close your eyes and think about that shot. Who or what is in the photo? What are the colors? Is it night or daytime? Where was it taken? What action was taking place just before the shot? Just after the shot? Now open your eyes.

Photographs freeze a moment in time, but are always subjective because the moment is seen through the photographer’s eye and bias. Step back and see the moment as an observer and write the scene in third person.

See what thaws out. :)

 

 

How to find a publishing home for your writing

Now that you have imagined, written, revised, polished, and crafted a piece to the point of being ready to send it out into the world, some writers pause here and hesitate, unsure about how to find a place for their work.

Depending on what it is that you’ve written, you have plenty of options and most of them unpaid. I used to be a freelance journalist and although I did make money for a decade, it never came close to a comfortable salary, which is why I’m now a professor. At least I have steady, livable pay and benefits. However, even if you have a day job and write on the side, don’t expect anyone to pay you for your labor. It is a sad state of affairs that we writers must labor for “love,” and not electric bill money, but if you want to be published outside of your own blog, you must accept this reality as the norm.

Having accepted this fact, you can now search for consumer magazines, local and regional publications in your geographic location, newspapers, blogs, and literary journals that will gladly review your stuff and either reject or accept it. Most pay in exposure, some provide contributor copies, and even fewer pay cash (and the cash is usually under $50 regardless of the length of your work).

A terrific starting point is the Poets & Writer’s Literary Journal Database. You can simply search by keyword or your genre, or click over to the advanced search to limit your results by such categories as circulation numbers and acceptance rates. This area of the P&W site also includes sections on writing conferences, contests, small presses, agents, and jobs. It is my go-to place for my students as well. When I assign them to write for publication, we spend a class period analyzing the journal listings, journal web sites, and submission guidelines of a few publications so they understand what to look for and how to evaluate the publication for compatibility with their work.

If you seek a publishing home for a creative nonfiction, fiction, or poetic piece, I recommend starting at the P&W database. Happy hunting!

The Six-Minute Rejection

One of my all-time favorite rejection stories to tell isn’t mine. A friend of mine who is a well-published writer (in multiple genres), holder of a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and professor, shared the most amazing rejection story on her blog a couple of years ago.

I’m paraphrasing here, but basically, she sent a story to an editor and six minutes later, she received a rejection email.

Fastest rejection in the East! Whoa, put the brakes on! Six minutes?!

That was my initial reaction. I told my Advanced Comp students about her experience and they were duly flabbergasted as well, but it allowed us to delve into why she (or anyone) would receive such a fast rejection response.

Knowing my friend and her writing, I know this piece was probably stellar and brilliant and creative and well-executed and polished, so it certainly isn’t that it was poorly written. Perhaps something was off in the story, or perhaps the editor just didn’t like it (and that’s okay!). Or perhaps it wasn’t a good fit, or didn’t fit that editor’s idea of the next issue at the moment.

The piece was short, so she rationalized that it probably only took the editor five minutes to read the entire thing.

But still.

Ouch.

That hurts just thinking about it.

And then I got my own version of the six-minute rejection. I sent a piece last year to an editor and about an hour later, it was rejected. However, I looked at that quick response as a blessing. My friend’s story and my essay were not wrangled up in an editorial limbo or stuck, unread, in someone’s inbox for two, three, six months. It was fast, yes, but it was also merciful.

I prefer editors who respond quickly when they know right away they don’t want my work. I’m fine with their judgment and confident decision-making and you should be, too. Consider yourself fortunate if you get rejected quickly. Because to wait three or more months only to be rejected is time wasted – time you could have been revising it or submitting that piece elsewhere.

The next time you get a speedy rejection, rejoice! And send that baby out again. :)

Midweek Writing Prompt: Letter to an Inanimate Object (9/10/14)

In my classrooms and workshops, I strive to create safe, welcoming writing communities where individuals feel free to explore ideas, stories, and concepts without judgment. After all, we need those spaces to get started. The judgment – of editors, professors, critical friends – will come later. But in the beginning, we need that soft, friendly embrace where anything is possible and everyone loves you. Let’s go there together.

When my schedule allows, I will post writing prompts for you to play with. I encourage you to write something and to share those initial efforts in the comment section, or even your response to the prompt – tell us what happened when you sat down to write. After all, some of these prompts will lead you down a path toward publication – I’ve seen that happen often enough to be confident in that statement.

Give it a try! :)


 

Writing Prompt: Letter to an Inanimate Object

Time to have some fun and stretch those imaginations! My students and workshop participants always end up loving this prompt, but often give me the same look you’re shooting at the screen right now. Trust me and go with it. :)

Think about all of the inanimate objects in your life. All of the things that you use on a daily basis. If I came to your house or place of work and told you that you can only keep ONE of those items for a whole week and everything else would be taken away, which item can you not live without?

Got it? Good.

Now, write a love letter to that inanimate object and make it sincere, convincing, and heartfelt with plenty of specific details and shared memories.

You will LOVE the result.

(And as a side note, one of my students developed her prompt response into a full-length creative nonfiction story that was accepted for publication. These prompts really do work! Now get to it.)

:)

 

 

The value of contemplation

When’s the last time you sat down somewhere and just thought? No distractions, no smart phone, no computer, no kids, no pets, no TV, no music, just you sitting in a space somewhere thinking?

There is great value in such moments and it is worth making an effort to claim that space and time for yourself.

Moments of contemplation allow your mind to calm, slow down, meander. And in that meandering, without you pushing it, your mind will start making connections, start creating images and ideas, and might even provide an answer for a question that’s been bugging you for awhile.

I hear the excuses flying at me: But I have no time! I’ve got kids! I work all the time! I’m too busy!

Bullshit,

You’re too busy to carve out a few moments of solitude and contemplation because you choose not to. Having a family is both a choice and an obligation, but you are not shackled to them or their every need. Having a demanding career is likewise a choice and you are not shackled to that either. If writing is really important to you, if it is the thing that you must do, then you will find a way to make the time.

Lots of my friends and colleagues have families, demanding jobs, and time-consuming responsibilities. And the ones who consider themselves writers? They find a way to make the time. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes a week. They pay themselves with time first and they find a way.

If you are truly serious about being a writer, you’ll find a way, too.

Making the argument

In the Spring 2011 issue of the bible of creative nonfiction, the journal Creative Nonfiction, Phillip Lopate explores whether the essay is “exploration or argument,” ultimately deciding that the best creative nonfiction essays do, in fact, make an argument, even if implicitly. And he says that teachers of creative nonfiction are at a disadvantage in one distinct way: “The creative writing teacher, whose authority extends from being a practitioner of the form, is not a trained rhetorician” (58).

Ah-HA!

Not so, Phillip Locate. For I AM a trained rhetorician. No wonder I have no problem teaching my Advanced Comp students that their creative nonfiction pieces MUST have a point, MUST persuade in some small way, MUST make an argument of some kind.

I feel quite good knowing that I have an advantage in this arena, for I am both trained rhetorician AND professional, published writer (in addition to teaching College Composition, which is all about argument and research). Hooray! (Of course, all of this know-how has zero effect on my ability to get stuff published quickly…I have to run the same marathons as you, trust me.)

So I need to put on my rhetorician hat here for a moment and share a few tips on making an argument in a creative nonfiction essay.

 1. Once you settle on an idea, ask yourself why you want to write about it. The answer to that question (unless it is a banal ‘because I want to’ or ‘because it’s interesting to me’) will likely provide a skeletal framework for your argument that will be cleverly and creatively embedded in the piece.

2. In creative nonfiction, you don’t really want to bash the reader over the head with your point or opinion or argument. You must use language, scenes, details, dialogue, description, structure, anecdotes, and moments of reflection to do that work for you. Subtlety can be just as persuasive as the invisible bat to the head. There should be no point at which you editorialize or moralize (‘the reason I’m writing this is because’ or some form of ‘the moral of the story’ or ‘what I learned was’…just don’t do it), but rather gently persuade through the hypnotic pulse of your sentences and structure. In this case, the whole really is the sum of its parts. Get the reader on your side – no one likes to be preached at.

3. Here’s a simplified rhetoric lesson. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. Think about what persuades you. When you read an opinion editorial, do you ever think, ‘huh, never thought about it like that before.’ Gotcha! You’ve been persuaded. The piece made you think and feel something. Now, to make that work in a creative piece, think about the purpose of the essay you’re writing and the one single scene that you can include to show the import of your purpose. You’ll probably end up with more than one scene, but nobody likes to be overwhelmed, so start with one. You can build from there.

Say you want to tell the story of your dad’s abuse and how you have started to heal physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Your recovery is important because you finally feel like you are becoming your true self, out from under the weight of this experience and knowledge. The argument is that it IS possible to move past such a trauma. The story should demonstrate that abuse is dangerous and damaging and anyone reading the story should take solace that a) they are not alone and b) it IS possible to feel whole and human again.

Let’s start there.

What scene would be most important to include? Perhaps the moment you stood up for yourself and fought back. Okay. Write that scene. Now go back and think again about your purpose and argument.

Build on what you started with…what other scene might be important to include for variety and perspective? How about a moment from way back – your childhood. A moment where you were treated abominably to show the longevity and history of this abuse. Check. Write that scene.

Now your piece is getting pretty long, but you need another scene to round it out – you don’t want your story to be two-dimensional. No one is ever persuaded by two-dimensional arguments. You must address the counterpoint…your dad’s perspective.

So you pick a scene that balances the impression that you’ve given thus far that he is a two-dimensional monster…now he becomes human. It’s not important that you show readers that you have forgiven him – you may not have and this isn’t his story. This is YOUR story, so the focus should remain on YOU.

You may decide after writing these three scenes, revising, re-ordering, and polishing that they will stand alone without any explanation – the scenes make the argument. Or you may decide to play with the pieces and the structure and experiment with presentation. Whatever you decide, the underlying argument is clear because you thought about your purpose in advance, which provided a structure and guideline for your decisions.

Remember to have a purpose when writing – it will strengthen your story and improve audience (and editor!) reactions.

Midweek Writing Prompt: Family Interview (9/3/14)

In my classrooms and workshops, I strive to create safe, welcoming writing communities where individuals feel free to explore ideas, stories, and concepts without judgment. After all, we need those spaces to get started. The judgment – of editors, professors, critical friends – will come later. But in the beginning, we need that soft, friendly embrace where anything is possible and everyone loves you. Let’s go there together.

When my schedule allows, I will post writing prompts for you to play with. I encourage you to write something and to share those initial efforts in the comment section, or even your response to the prompt – tell us what happened when you sat down to write. After all, some of these prompts will lead you down a path toward publication – I’ve seen that happen often enough to be confident in that statement.

Give it a try! :)


 

Writing Prompt: Family interview

This prompt is a little more involved, but might produce some great stories and ideas.

Locate your oldest and most lucid living family member. Call or visit that person this week and interview him or her about your family’s history. Dig deep and ask the tough questions. If there is something that no one talks about, but everyone is aware of, ask about that. Try to get your relative to spill the details. (Years ago, one of my students discovered through this exercise that she had a relative in the Klan.) If you know of no such juicy story, then focus on finding out what life was like for this person when he or she was young. What were the circumstances leading up to this person’s courtship and marriage? What were the challenges in the family early on for him or her? Use your imagination and come up with a list of questions that reflect what YOU really want to know. I suggest offering to buy coffee or lunch as well.

At the very least, you’ll learn some new information about your family, have a delightful conversation with a person you likely don’t spend a lot of time with, and may come away inspired to write something. You’ll be happy you did this! :)

 

 

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