Friday, November 21, 2008


Even the most devoted instructor cannot teach a good style or reduce the elements of style to a set of quickly learned techniques. We learn to write well, if we ever do, by reading good prose, paying close attention to our own words, revising relentlessly, and recalling the connections between written and spoken language.

Christopher Lasch

You cannot learn to write publishable prose overnight. Nor can an editor convert your notes into a publishable article by fixing the grammar. Successful academic writers are people who have made a habit of prosing their world, as Foucault might put it. They have submitted to a discipline.

Are you writing regularly? Does your writing schedule include periods of revision and proofreading? Does your reading respect your writing (and vice versa)? Do you have time to take your writing sessions seriously as learning opportunities? Do you study your own writing alongside the good prose you are reading?

Do you have conversations with peers about the things you are writing about? That is, is there a "spoken language" for your research?

Do you stop writing before you are exhausted? Before you are interrupted? (I.e., do you stop because your writing session is simply over?) Do you write even when you don't feel like it?

It is a long journey. There are about a 1000 days between the start a PhD program and its completion. Perhaps another 1000 between your assistant professorship and your associate professorship. You have to be relentless about your writing in those days. You have to be paying attention.

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