The Challenges of Scholarly Writing - From Aspiring Author to Published Scholar - Professional Roles and Publishable Writing

Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success - Mary Renck Jalongo, Olivia N. Saracho 2016

The Challenges of Scholarly Writing
From Aspiring Author to Published Scholar
Professional Roles and Publishable Writing

Without a doubt, writing for publication is a challenge whether the scholar is new or experienced. While some individuals may have strength in verbal/linguistic intelligence (Gardner, 2006) they will need much more than raw talent in order to succeed. To illustrate, there are many instances of athletes or singers who obviously possess talent yet do not accomplish much with it. That is because success relies on wide range of influences such as social capital, work ethic, resilience in the face of failure, and responsiveness to coaching. Talent alone will not suffice; creativity also depends on variables such as motivation, interest, effort, and opportunity.

By definition, a craft is a repertoire of skills that is honed by intensive effort and deliberate practice. It is for this reason that many experts on writing regard it as a craft rather than a talent. Ernest Hemingway, the great American novelist once said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” What makes mastery so out-of-reach, even for those with a widely acclaimed flair for writing? Evidently, for most of us, it has to do with a destructive combination of ingredients: negative attitudes toward writing, fear of taking a risk, and low expectations for success.

Research on writing anxiety and writer’s block suggests that negative feelings about writing are most intense when we are transitioning to a different writing task (Hjortshoj, 2001). Unfortunately, the influences that increase writing anxiety are demanded of academic authors all at once: writing about new topics, with a different author’s voice, in an unfamiliar format, and for a more public audience. These new task demands are apt to yield at least some of the negative feelings identified by writing experts (Elbow, 2002; Flower & Hayes, 1981) in Fig. 1.1.

Fig. 1.1 Negative feelings frequently attributed to writing

Another downside of writing has to do with what might be considered vagaries, a term that the Cambridge Dictionaries defines as “unexpected events or changes that cannot be controlled and can influence a situation.” They give the example of “The success of the event will be determined by the vagaries of the weather”. At times, the outcomes of scholarly writing can seem almost as difficult to control as the weather. Scholarly writing can be such unpredictable enterprise that, out of sheer desperation, authors sometimes resort to bizarre rituals to bring a manuscript into existence (see Becker, 2007; Belcher, 2009).

Part of the explanation for feeling overwhelmed by writing is that multi-layered internal “scripts” are running as we write. An author can be simultaneously wondering if he is going off on a tangent, deciding if a word is spelled correctly, making a mental reminder to track down a citation, worrying that the structure of the piece isn’t working very well, or thinking that he definitely needs to invest in a new office chair. All of this input can lead to cognitive overload as authors to decide which thought to act upon first, which to silence, and how to push forward. Responses to these feelings can be as different as writers themselves. It is common to feel “nervous, jumpy, [and] inhibited” when we write because we are trying to edit and write at the same time (Elbow, 1973, p. 5). More often than not, the feeling tone of writing is grim determination rather than the liberating sense that the words are flowing and the writing is going well. Little wonder, then, that writers can come up with so many excuses and ways to escape. Replacing less productive habits with more productive ones is a major hurdle.