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Posts Tagged ‘advice’

Boom project

Over a year and a month ago, a typo in a tweet that turned into something unexpected. In the airport waiting for a plane, I decided to tweet a bit about my short stint as a visiting writer at Elizabethtown college to process what had happened. But mostly, to process what I had said to students who asked me for writing advice. I can’t remember if I was typing quickly on my phone or if I was blissfully careless on my laptop. Either way, I ended up typing “boom” instead of “book.” That typo, the “m” rather than the “k,” became significant. At first, I didn’t realize my mistake. A couple of  lovely folks on Twitter tweeted at me to ask what a “boom project” was, and I reread my tweet and found the error. One person wondered if “boom project” was a new publishing term that they hadn’t heard of yet. No, it was just a mistake. Or was it?

I had been tweeting about a confession I made to a group of students (and two of their professors). In the Q & A in a class, a student asked me about how I write books and what new projects I was working on. Before I could stop myself, I admitted that book projects still frighten the bejesus out of me. The students looked at me and each other with varying levels of bewilderment and a nervous chuckle or two. I kept talking when I probably should have stopped. I wanted to be honest, so I explained that long projects, like books, still frighten (read panic) me. This fear remained strong, even though I’ve already written two books. Books are a long commitment for a writer, and long commitments often appear scary at the outset because who knows how they’ll actually turn out. Boom or bust. Luckily, I didn’t say the previous lines aloud. (more…)

Writing Advice

I detest giving advice. No, that’s not a strong enough sentiment. I hate giving advice, so I generally avoid giving it unless someone forces my hand. Advice pretends to be universal, though it really isn’t. Our situations are particular, complex, and fraught, and advice rares brushes the surface of this complexity. Advice pretends to be applicable to everyone while knowing it never is. I’m leery of people who willingly offer up advice, especially unsolicited advice. I didn’t ask I want to say, but never do. I often wonder what those who spout advice envision human experiences to be, and I figure what they envision looks remarkably similar to their lives. Something worked for them, so it must work for us? Their certainty makes me twitchy. I usually look for an exit.

It is hard for us to imagine the lives of others, their circumstances, their situations, and their constraints because often we aren’t aware of our own. How do we get outside of our own heads long enough to grapple with someone else’s reality? (Can we?) This is why I hate giving advice because of the needed particularity. I understand fully that life is hard, but what if I can’t imagine the particularity of that hard for you? I know there are others who can’t quite imagine why a task takes Herculean effort for me and barely any from them. What advice can I offer you without knowing more about your situation? Some of the most common advice that I’ve received proved to not work for me, and I beat myself up about it for awhile. I tend not to now. Advice is cheap; lots of people clamor to offer it up. This is why I hesitate and pause and usually fumble the question when someone asks me for advice. This is also why I tend to be searingly honest about my own situation. I provide the context for what I end up saying, even then, I still hate giving advice.

Three weeks ago, I did a reading in front of audience of mostly undergraduates. This was my first reading, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I made it through the last paragraph of my essay and choked up. This essay is one of the personal and vulnerable that I’ve every written. I read and reread it aloud because some of the paragraphs were hard for me to get through without tears. I made it through, but the last few lines hit hard. I took a gulp of bottled water and another, cleared my throat, and waited for questions. The undergrads were hesitant, but they started asking questions, good ones about craft, research, process, and audience. The last question of evening came from my friend, Richard, who asked what kind of advice I would have liked to heard as an undergraduate about being a writer. The question, one I should have seen coming, threw me.

I paused to gather my thoughts and then offered up the first thing that came to mind: “I never imagined I could be a writer.” (more…)

Professionalization

The Religion Bulletin is running a series of responses to Russell McCutcheon’s Theses on Professionalization (2007) by early career scholars. Matt Sheedy, the editor of the blog, asked me to contribute, so I did. I tackled thesis 15 about turning your dissertation into a manuscript. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote.

Before I graduated, I had a book contract and advance. My committee was convinced that I would have no problem getting a tenure track job. Any department, they assured, would be lucky to have me. I chose to believe them. I had four campus visits that year. Following my advisor’s advice about published seemed to work.

However, no amount of advice mattered after the market crash in 2008. The job market for tenure-track positions in the humanities, which already wasn’t good, became worse. The common lament was “there are no jobs,” but this wasn’t true. There were still jobs, but they were not tenure track. Contingent positions, those part-time and full-time jobs re-upped every semester or year, were readily available. I had no problem securing temporary lecturer gigs. My book contract might have helped. Yet, I’m not sure it mattered much when departments just need bodies in front of classrooms to teach students. I finished my book while teaching part-time and applying for tenure track jobs. I got a contract for another book after getting a full-time lecturer job.

I imagined that if I just worked hard enough and published more that I could cajole search committees into hiring me. I didn’t get a tenure track job.

So, while I agree that your manuscript does you no good in your desk drawer, I’m not entirely convinced that it does you any good out of the drawer either.

Read more.