I have been spending the last few days checking the proofs for my first journal article. This has been a long path and a far more time-consuming and salutary experience than I ever expected.
I might like to think that the image of my academic writing experience is like this:
when in fact it is much more likely this:
I am of, course contractually obliged to share the work of the brilliant Bill Watterson here, as Calvin and Hobbes set the right tone for just about any situation… But seriously, I had concerns about getting my research ‘out there’ – Was it really of any interest, never mind quality? Would I be able to make myself clear? Could I do justice to what my participants have shared so far? Was I ready to expose myself to criticism? Would I just sound like a caricature of an academic writer? Would the PhD police place a heavy hand on my shoulder and whisper, “I am sorry, madam, we are going to have to ask you to leave”?
In fact, the writing experience was initially exciting. An early conference presentation held lots of potential and it was almost a personal test to the nascent research to see if a full article could be generated. It was a useful confirmation that I might be able to manage this PhD malarkey. My super supervisor provided supportive challenges to imprecise ideas and wobbly organisation as well as useful conversations on suitable journals for submission.
Waving my article off to editors for consideration was a leap of faith and a learning opportunity. Reviewer comments varied considerably and it was a challenge to read for the first time a critique of style or focus from someone who had not made the research journey with me in one way or another. My confidence bubble burst as a smugly crafted bit of word-play was queried as confusing; some sections muddied the waters; the abstract promised ideas I hadn’t really delivered on; conclusions were too light. Too, too true.
Thanks to helpful Twitterers on academic writing, such as Pat Thomson and the Thesis Whisperer, I knew I needed to put on my big pants and deal with reviewer comments one by one. Doing so helped me to address stylistic weaknesses and understand the need for greater clarity and precision. In many ways, I am far less happy now with the piece of work than I was when I sent it nervously quivering into the ether: I am far more aware of its flaws.
At least in part, my lack of certainty in the article is because time has marched smartly on in the meantime. It is nearly a year since the original draft was written. The slow process of submission, reviews, edits and proofing means that I have further data, have refined my thinking and would offer a more nuanced analysis now. A further factor is the unexpectedly long time taken in revisions and reiterations – I have not done as much ‘new’ writing as I would have wanted in the last few months.
However, the pain has been worth it. As someone beginning my PhD in what we may politely refer to as ‘later life’, establishing a publication record before I complete my thesis feels crucial in positioning myself for post-doc employment and demonstrating the seriousness of such a career shift. More immediately, the act of just writing has been invaluable. A book chapter on ethics has also been accepted for publication in the autumn, full paper submissions to gain a place at various conferences have reinforced lessons learnt about writing more effectively. All this store of formal writing has meant that scholarship applications and the internal PhD confirmation milestones have been easier (relatively speaking). Of course, all these words will be reworked and developed in the next year, but having over 30k of them ‘banked’ makes me feel confident for the future.
And so, this is me, writing, writing. Whether blog posts which help me crystallise thought, draft chapters for my supervisor or ‘side’ projects where reading leads me down paths which don’t really fit into PhD research but are too fascinating to release, writing allows me to celebrate how lucky I am to be doing this thing.
ICYMBI, Feeling lonely, feeling connected: Amateur knit and crochet makers sharing online will be published next month in Craft Research 7 (1) pp.9-27