For as long as I can remember Halloween, I have loved it. Consistently. Faithfully. Deeply.
Halloween was often my favorite holiday, and it remains so. It was easier than the bigger holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which required me to be shuttled back in forth between my divorced parents. Half a day with only family, half a day with another, always waiting for the tension to boil over. Always waiting for my biological dad to find a way to let me know that I ruined yet another holiday simply because I missed my mom.
I dreaded both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I never knew how either would turn out but I was always waiting for something to go wrong. Often, something did. I was blamed. In some ways, I still dread both holidays, my mind and body primed and preparing for the worst.
I’ve been writing for public audiences since 2007, when I starting writing posts for the Religion in American History Blog. I was a graduate student, who felt a little–or maybe a lot–stifled by the academic styles of writing that focused engaging a specialized audience, other experts. I was writing a dissertation that I hoped spoke to experts and larger audiences while not sure if it actually was.
So, I started blogging because I wanted to write something that my mom could/would read. (Spoiler alert: My mom has read very, very few of my articles, posts, or essays. She might have only read one, maybe two tops. She won’t admit it. I won’t ask her about it.)
I wanted to write something that more people would read, so I wrote shorter (around 1000 words) posts, in which I experimented with style and tone alongside presenting ideas from my dissertation research to folks beyond my committee. I was writing about white supremacy, nationalism, and faith. I wanted an audience beyond my adviser, committee, and peers in my grad program. I wanted my research to move beyond the bounds of a dissertation into the public sphere.
Frankly, I wanted to write articles that more people would read. (Yes, there was an activist impulse to research. No, I didn’t care that some academics derided activism.)
What I didn’t know then was that I was paving the way to being both a freelance writer and a public scholar, a scholar who writes specifically to and for a public. (And, readers, there are many publics not just one. More of that in a moment.)
I am currently working on an expansion and revision to one of my previous books. As with any of the other books I’ve written, the writing process has its ups and downs. (Currently, I am in the downs phase, which is frustrating and makes me want to bang my head into my desk. Repeatedly.)
Writing each book is always hard. It is never not hard. But, the hardness shows up in different ways depending on the book. You only figure out how to write the book you are currently writing, which means each new book requires figuring out how to write the darn thing. (Why, why, why?!)
However, I have come to realize that writing a book, at least for me, has a familiar pattern, and it requires a certain number of stages. At least 16.
So, here are the stages* of my writing process, the good, the bad, the in-between: (more…)
Hi readers, this interview appears not only here at my site, but also over at Katie Rose Guest Pryal’s site. I hope y’all enjoy our discussion of careers, shifting out of academia, and the important role of failure.
From 2013 to 2015, Kelly J. Baker wrote a monthly column for Chronicle Vitae (an arm of The Chronicle of Higher Education) called “Grace Period,” detailing her experience leaving the academy for a career that she made for herself. In 2017, Grace Period became a well-regarded book.
Oftentimes, when we see academics who’ve left higher education and made new careers for themselves, we wonder how they’ve done it. Baker has done more than just talked about her new career: in Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces, she shared the good, the bad, and the ugly of the transition from the work she knew to the unknown. As readers, we learn about not only the new career, but also the pain and mistakes that it took to get there.
During the same time period as “Grace Period,” Katie Rose Guest Pryal wrote a monthly column for Chronicle Vitae called “The Freelance Academic”—now the basis of a book to be published in June of 2019. Although it is a different kind of book than Grace Period, The Freelance Academic does share one important characteristic: Pryal doesn’t shy away from her pain and mistakes, either.
Last year, Baker published a new book, Succeeding Outside The Academy: Career Paths beyond the Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM (co-edited with Joseph Fruscione, University of Kansas 2018). Pryal is also a contributor to the book, and Baker was her editor. What follows is a conversation between Pryal and Baker about Succeeding, and failure, and about what it means to leave behind academic life.
Often, I get asked to talk about how I have the career I have now as editor of Women in Higher Education. Folks often want an easy story of point A (Religious studies PhD) to point B (editor and writer). They expect it to be linear and simple to follow. One thing lead to another and suddenly I have a new career that pays a fairly decent wage. I just shifted from one career to another. Easy peasy, right? Um, no.
I tend to subvert those easy stories that folks like to tell about their transitions outside of the academy. Rather than telling a story that wipes out my failures and focuses on my successes, I talk about how I struggled. Struggle is the one word that I would use to describe my career transition. I struggled for years to figure out what kind of career I wanted to have, how to get to that career, and then find my way to a semi-permanent gig.
My career is a hodge podge of gigs that I have pulled together after years of effort and the luck of the draw. The gigs change each year. Some gigs disappear. Others I let go. Then, I find something to replace them. Sometimes, I don’t.