Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016
Get Past Procrastination and Avoidance
From Aspiring Author to Published Scholar
Professional Roles and Publishable Writing
Most people are reluctant to attempt a task unless they think they have a better than 50/50 chance of succeeding (Brim, 1992). Writing is the focus of considerable procrastination and outright avoidance because expectations for success may be low. Little wonder, then, that if you wait until the task is insurmountable—such as writing a dissertation a few months before the 7-year time limit expires or producing a book during a one-semester sabbatical leave—you cannot bring yourself to sit down and write. That is because what psychologists refer to as “appraisal emotions” have been activated and the assessment is that the task is categorized as having a low probability of success. The predictable response is that writers quickly convince themselves that there’s something else that demands immediate attention—such as sharpening pencils when they never even use them to write.
After panic about scholarly writing sets in, a plan to write nonstop often emerges, yet such “binge writing” rarely yields the desired results (Boice, 2000). First of all, as with cramming for exams versus studying all semester, it probably will not yield the best possible outcome. Secondly, plans for big blocks of time are easily disrupted by other, more urgent (or appealing) tasks. Published authors have learned to break writing down into smaller sub-tasks—what Murray (2013) refers to as “snack writing”—that can be accomplished in shorter time frames, from as little as a few minutes to a few hours. They also “chip away” at writing tasks by beginning immediately because this affords the greatest opportunity to complete multiple revisions and get critical feedback.
Where time is concerned, another common mistake is to wait for the mythical “someday”; that time after the children are grown, after the degree program is finished, or release time is offered. Yet waiting to begin ultimately limits opportunities to improve as a writer and, if “someday” does arrive, the skill set may not equal to the task. Over the years, I have attended many a retirement event where an unpublished professor indicates that he or she will now have the time and start writing. To date, that has never happened. The reason for this is that writing is not some simple leisure time hobby that can be casually pursued. If professors have not written when there were extrinsic rewards attached to successful publication and pressure to publish then it is highly unlikely that they would be intrinsically motivated to write. Becoming a published scholar is founded on genuine engagement with the discipline and a deliberately developed set of skills (Starr-Glass, 2015) not free time and serendipity.
The harsh reality is that, where university faculty members are concerned, any substantial form of support for writing occurs after faculty members demonstrate that they know how to publish in their respective fields. Model your writer’s work habits, not after famous novelists or the most celebrated contributors in your field, but based on what you can realistically tolerate at any particular point. A new assistant professor, for instance, worked on a single article throughout the fall and spring, obtained feedback from several readers, and finalized the work during the summer when his teaching load was not as heavy. It was not until several years later that he had sufficient confidence and skill as an academic author to juggle multiple writing projects. Yet because he had started early and persisted, his confidence and skill were built.