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Monday, May 18, 2009

How Much? How Frequently?

Tying in to Rose's post from earlier today I'd like to raise a related but slightly different question about summer scholarship, and scholarship more generally: how much and how frequently?  Early in my scholarly career I had a pretty fixed, even robotic, writing schedule: one article per year.  It was a simple schedule, and I grew comfortable with it.  As I've matured more things have gotten in the way of that simple schedule-- usually, although not always, in the direction of writing more.  I'm on a couple of casebooks and occasionally get opportunities for shorter pieces of writing or solicited articles.  Layered on top of what is an ingrained habit these other commitments have the effect of creating more (rather than simply different) writing opportunities and obligations.  Developing a scholarly agenda and getting tenure has also led me to write more for the sake of the scholarship itself -- a positive development, of course.

But all this writing and all these plans lead me to wonder how much one ought to write, and how quickly.  I assume there's an easy response (not "easy" in the pejorative sense): write as much and as quickly as you can consistent with doing quality work and without neglecting your other professional and personal obligations.  Fair enough.  But that sensible advice (reminiscent of Joe Jackson's "It's Different for Girls" lyrics) doesn't answer the hard questions: if you're writing a long article over the summer to submit in the late July submission season, should you also write the short essay you've been thinking about?  The article instead of the finishing the book?  Or spend the time on more research/polishing of the big piece?   If the answer is "write the small piece if the big piece is written to your satisfaction," then how does one make that evaluation?  Everything I've written would have been better if I had spent more time on that, and I assume I'm not alone in saying that.

I ask these questions not in search of the answer, which presumably doesn't exist.  But any wisdom, short of an answer, would sure be appreciated.

Posted by Bill Araiza on May 18, 2009 at 08:47 PM | Permalink


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My advice for tenured professors is to tackle big projects if there's one that inspires you and write only short pieces if they are particularly interesting for you. One of my mentors once told me that the purpose of tenure for a scholar is to free the scholar from the time pressures to which the tenure clock subjects probationary faculty. Personally, I'm always working on a book, but I also try to carve a few articles out of the book and write an op-ed or two a year (and similar _really_ short pieces) so that people don't think I've retired on the payroll (and so I can remain engaged). Of course, if I'm invited to contribute an article to a symposium with some of the true greats in my field, I don't say no to that. However, I do sometimes say no to other invitations because they get in the way of the big project. Best wishes.

Posted by: Scott Gerber | May 18, 2009 10:05:46 PM

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