Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Writing From the Scholar Factory

Patricia Goodson, Becoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing

I’ve heard it often recently: write like it’s a business. From mentors, professional writers, career counselors, quotes circulated on social media, I’ve even told myself I need to have a businesslike approach to writing. But like many widely circulated bromides, that doesn’t translate into action without details. As I attempt to restart my academic career, I’ve questioned how to be a more businesslike writer. This book couldn’t be more timely.

Patricia Goodson teaches Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University, perhaps an unusual discipline for a writing mentor. But as she notes, the physical sciences are very writing-intensive, with their own unique disciplinary approaches and a publish-or-perish mentality. Since much advice on writing comes from professional poets, novelists, and other creative writers, a science-based approach to writing makes an interesting change. It also makes a relief from fortune cookie sayings.

Goodson offers here an intensively researched, heavily documented exploration into what makes for good writing. Not just what ought to make for good writing, but what scholars in the field of verbal productivity have proven improves a writer’s output. Not just in abstract notions of output quality, either; writers using these approaches have improved their productivity as measured in both pages produced and editorial acceptances received.

Having researched what actually works—a field into which Goodson has made significant contributions herself—she translates the approaches into what she calls the POWER model: Promoting Outstanding Writing for Excellence in Research. She teaches this model to fellow Aggies, and has licensed its use at other universities too. Now she distills its essence into fifty exercises for a one-year self-guided immersion into improved scholarly and academic writing.

Patricia Goodson
Several exercises seem particularly common-sense… if you already know they work. For instance, many people avoid writing simply because they don’t see themselves as writers. But how does one feel like a writer, except by writing? I didn’t feel like a carpenter until I started building frames, and realized I could do it. Likewise, Goodson insists, dedicated academics should cultivate the “write” attitude simply by establishing writing as a continuous daily habit.

Other exercises address topics I never would’ve consciously considered. Since Goodson writes for graduate students, faculty, and other academic professionals, her audience requires an unusual familiarity with specialist vocabulary. She has an entire chapter dedicated entirely to cultivating a professional glossary. Since I’ve done that through osmosis, a deliberate approach never occurred to me. Yet seeing it now, I realize the massive importance of mindful vocabulary cultivation.

Again, Goodson writes for academics, not creative writers. Numerous books for aspiring novelists already exist. She writes for scholars who, having performed research and made discoveries, need to translate those insights into words and find their intended audience. (Notably, she doesn’t have a research chapter. Which makes sense, as career academics often use indefinite research as a stalling tactic to avoid writing. Don’t lie, I’ve done it too.)

I don’t want to reveal Goodson’s exercises, for multiple reasons: because she provides valuable ancillary guidance that moves her instruction beyond mere advice, into actual teaching. Because she has a specific curriculum you can customize to your needs. Because I’m only partway through myself. But here’s a thumbnail of Exercise One: don’t just intend to write. Ink writing time into your daily schedule, and defend it as rigorously as you would family time.

And Exercise Five: keep a daily writing log. Use a spreadsheet, graph paper, or template available on Goodson’s website (included), to chart your daily progress. Seriously. Though only barely into Goodson’s curriculum, I’ve found my output increased, because these two exercises, which she explains in more detail, have already increased my sense of accountability for writing output. They may seem like added work, but they’ve already improved my writing experience.

I repeat, Goodson writes for academics, mainly those in physical and social sciences. Creative writers may find plenty that applies herein, and as a two-track writer myself, I’m utilizing much she says in all my endeavors. Humanities scholars will also run across some practical limitations; I’d recommend Wendy Laura Belcher for you. But for Goodson’s unusually specific target audience, this book opens new vistas of opportunity for improving scholarship.

This isn’t a magic cure-all. She has a specific course of exercises to undertake, which she suggests over the course of a year. Like most learning opportunities, you must work for your results. But for academics willing to invest the necessary effort, I believe Goodson’s techniques will stretch and improve writing outputs. They’ve already improved my writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment