I am in a great mood. I have just put the final touches in a paper that I have been working on for a looooong time and sent it to a colleague for comments. I hope to submit it to the academic journal that I have in mind before the end of the month… and then the wait begins. Maybe it will be a long wait for the reviewers’ comments noting everything that is wrong with my paper. Or, worse, it will be a short wait for a message from the editor saying that my paper is not really suitable for that target journal (called a ‘desk rejection’).
The whole episode reminded me of a talk I heard recently about what it takes to be a great writer. Philip James, addressing the attendees at an academic writing retreat, stated that writers needed to have two key characteristics (in addition to being able to communicate well, of course). The characteristics are: Passion and Courage.
Writing with Passion
When you write, you are on your own. You decide what needs to be done and when. You determine your priorities. You execute the action plan.
It is very different from other tasks or roles. Even as a manager, say, your day is filled for you – someone requests a meeting, a report is due or some sort of problem requires your best attention. Your priorities and actions are often determined by others.
In writing the drive has to come from you. You have to find your own motivation and to assess what needs to de done in order to reach the submission stage.
Writing with Courage
Once you have mustered up the passion to finish your manuscript and you submit it, you are exposed. You have submitted your ideas to the scrutiny of others.
More often than not the reviewers will tell you how rubbish you are. There will always be something – in a recent submission, one reviewer even commented on comma and brackets placement.
At this point, it takes courage to get back up and try again, when you would much rather hide in the corner.
OK. OK. I can hear you saying that it isn’t only in academic writing that passion and courage are needed. It is the same in blogging…
Not long ago, Mark Schaefer tweeted that:
… and he should know as he blogs regularly and wrote The Tao of Twitter.
The best of ideas and intentions are often met with apathy, criticism or downright disbelief. Take Mark Jones, for instance, who created a blog to give a ‘warts-and-all account’ (as he puts it) of his business journey. His candid blog posts on the challenges he faces have been met with criticism. Some say that he was making too many mistakes, others that not much was happening.
I am sure that the same happens in other walks of life – in general, wherever you stand on your own too feet, rather than simply executing somebody else’s plan.
You have done your bit. You wrote with passion and courage. Now what?
Philip James offered two recommendations.
First, make sure that you have a great story to tell. People are more likely to give you a chance to improve your article if what you have to say is novel and/or really interesting – whether it is an academic argument, a commercial piece or even a personal journal.
Second, when you submit your work, aim high and go for the best outlet you can. If in academia, send it to the best (relevant) journal in your field. Yes, they will criticise what you write, whereas your friends and family would have said how much they loved it and how talented you are. If you aim low, the chances of being accepted may increase. But the thing is, the reviewers in good journals will (usually) give you really top quality feedback and their comments will help you grow as a writer, even if the paper is rejected.
I hope these thoughts motivate you as much as they motivated me to finish that much delayed paper. What keeps you going as a writer? When do you know that you have a “great story to tell”?
PS – On other news, I am now reviewing a paper that somebody else submitted to a journal. I did not make up my mind, yet, as to what my recommendation will be (accept / accept with revisions / reject). But of one thing I am sure: I will give the author(s) the best feedback I can. That’s the least I can do in return for their passion and courage.