What’s Next? On the Academic Writing Process

I’ve finally made it to what I’ve been working toward for the last 11 years. I will be a tenure-track professor. Studying what I want. In the place I want to be. Around colleagues I like and that I can learn from.

But What’s Next?

Publish or perish. If you ask someone with a more than cursory knowledge of the profession what one must do to be successful in the profession, they may tell you this: publish or perish. The idea is that if you want to thrive (i.e., not perish) you must find a way to get your work published. Ideas are not actually ideas worth contemplating unless they are on paper and other people are reading it. The perish part is easy, straightforward.

Avoid perish by writing, submitting, publishing. Repeat. The more the better.

But not really “publish or perish.”  Before you submit and publish, you must write. Really “write AND publish, or perish.” Anyone who says that to be a writer all you need to do is write is wrong.

Writing starts with an idea. For the last paper, I had a big idea. What’s Next? Do you have anything interesting to write about? Is it interesting to people other than yourself? Can you articulate both why it’s interesting and why other people should care? “Come up with a topic AND write AND publish, or perish.”

I have an idea, an idea I’ve been thinking about for months, a topic really. Because it’s born out of events happening around the country, I know the topic is important. The topic, when I bring it up, shocks some, makes others shake their heads. They say, oh wow, that’s fascinating.

But topics are not papers. The Next Idea must be bigger than the topic. It needs to involve fundamental problems with law, social structure, stratification, and inequality. Okay. “Come up with a topic AND an idea AND write AND publish, or perish.”

But if the problems are fundamental, haven’t others already written about them?Novelty. You cannot publish something that isn’t new. So What’s Next?

Now you need to read everything that’s ever been written on said topic. Have others addressed the topic? Who are these others? What about the idea? Have they identified the same fundamental issues you have? How have they treated those issues? What about their solutions (if any)? “Come up with a topic AND an idea AND make sure no one else has written this AND write AND publish, or perish.”

Inevitably, I’ll come across the Cursed Article that seems to be saying EXACTLY what I want to say. I throw the books to the side. Cry. Drink. Obviously I’m not supposed to be doing this work.

(to be continued)

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