Book Recommendation: How to Write a Lot

Paul Silvia, How to Write a Lot, Second Edition (American Psychological Association, Washington DC: 2019)

For anyone looking for a short, easy-to-read book with basic tips about writing, this is a good one. Silvia’s writing is friendly and practical at the same time. The book is a broad overview of all aspects of writing, from starting a project through submitting an article or finding a book publisher.

As a psychologist, he spends time dispelling the myths that haunt many writers. In particular, I was intrigued by his dissection of “writer’s block.” He proposes that it doesn’t exist; that it’s a fallacy to explain why writing doesn’t happen. Basically, the only way through it is to write.

Much of his advice is similar to other books about writing, but he writes it without adding fluff or extensive explanations. He integrates examples and distills his advice in ways that make you think “of course I can do that!”

Unique to his book is a chapter about writing grants. Because he comes from academia, this focuses more on getting grants to bring in funding research projects. However, archivists can glean some good advice by thinking of grants as writing projects. Grants are ways to practice writing good context, being concise, and refining language.

This is a great book for new and early writers. It breaks down the writing process in a way that archivists likely did not learn in graduate school. Its simple and practical approach will coach writers through the obstacles and make the process achievable.

Book Recommendation: The Chronicle Productivity Guide to Writing & Publishing

One of my goals for this blog going forward is to offer more resources about writing and research. I’ve posted a few here and there, but plan to be more consistent in offering suggestions.

I periodically read blogs and articles about books about writing. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the seemingly unending resources out there. I’ve started reading books about writing both to see if I can get tips for my own writing, but to also discern what are actually good resources and ones that are less helpful.

One that I like a lot is The Chronicle Productivity Guide to Writing & Publishing by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Though geared towards academics, anyone can find it helpful. What I like about it is that it is short essays from a variety of people. Though there is a cohesiveness, one need not read it in order nor cover to cover to find useful assistance.

This 84-page book distills the most common questions about and challenges to writing that probably everyone can relate to. It is divided into 5 sections:

  1. Finding Time and Managing Your Project List
  2. Conquering Isolation: The Writing Group
  3. Overcoming Inner Obstacles
  4. Ways to Improve Your Writing
  5. Navigating the Publishing Process

Within each section is realistic, practical advice. For archivists, I think sections 1, 3, and 4 are the most relevant. Two interesting essays in the first section jumped out at me. One discussed doing a reverse day planner, where you document everything you do to see how you spend your time. While I like this idea greatly, I haven’t yet done it. But it can help see how to carve out time to write.

The second one was about energy levels. The author breaks energy up into A, B, and C, and assigns writing to A. It is also about finding the time when your energy is at a peak, to designate that as your writing time. Some people are good early in the morning, others late at night. But identifying that can help be more productive.

The third section about inner obstacles has essays that every writer can relate to. Avoidance, doubts, organization, and many other aspects are the obstacles described. Then, there are some practical and unique ideas on how to move past those obstacles.

The fourth section about writing is also very helpful. I’m amused that one essay is called “7 Tips to Write Less Badly,” which is a good indication of how helpful the tips are. Some of the tips in these essays advise to think less about the amount of time spent on writing and more on the quantity of output, various ways to formulate and organize a strong argument, and how to find your voice.

This is not a cheap book, but is truly one of the best ones I’ve looked at if you are looking for some quick and insightful guidance on improving your writing and writing habits.

New SAA Professional Writers Virtual Group

Greetings fellow archivists,

We are proud to announce a whole new way for Archivists to meet ad a whole new group to turn to for support…

Welcome to the Professional Writers Virtual Group!

This is an online-only group dedicated to the act of professional writing. It is a group that is under the auspices of the Society of American Archivists – and open to SAA members as well as non-SAA affiliated people.

Our goal to create a space where people can come together to support each other through the professional writing process. In the coming weeks we will be uploading basic resources to the document library, highlighting lesser-known opportunities to publish, and activities to help you go from idea to published piece.

To join to the virtual group just go to your Connect homepage and scroll down the Professional Writers Virtual Group and click join. Once you’ve joined you can send a message to the list at this address: ARCHIVISTS-professionalwritingvirtualgroup@ConnectedCommunity.org

The Connect page also has a Shared Files folder that includes the group’s mission statement, some resources, and a list of places to publish.

The most important part of this group will be the listserv. This is our mechanism to communicate – and we envision the conversations to be frequent and fruitful. Like all SAA lists, the PWVG is a safe space where you can ask any questions you have about professional writing and get the help you need.

The group is open to people who have published, who haven’t published but are interested, people who have ideas but need writing partners, those on the tenure track who need a mentor, or anyone who is interested in Professional Writing.

Stay tuned for more information, and happy writing!

Michelle, Rebecca, Alison, and Josh

Michelle Ganz
Archives Director
McDonough Innovation
michelle.ganz42@gmail.com

Alison Stankrauff
University Archivist
Wayne State University
alison.stankrauff@wayne.edu

Rebecca Hankins
Associate Professor
Africana and Women’s & Gender Studies Archivist/Librarian/Curator
Texas A&M University
rhankins@tamu.edu

Joshua Kitchens
Director, Master of Archival Studies Program
Clayton State University
JoshuaKitchens@clayton.edu

Writing for Public Audiences: A 2-week online workshop beginning October 15, 2018

This is different from what I usually post, but because archives get attention in the news, this might be an interesting opportunity.

______________________________________

How to Pitch and Submit is a 2-week, blog-based course aimed at helping academics and graduate students reach wider audiences with their work. The course, created by former English professor and Belt Press publisher Anne Trubek, focuses on developing story ideas, pitching and submitting articles, op-eds, and essays. Students in the course have published  in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, LitHub, Washington Post, McSweeneys, Atlas Obscura, Smithsonian, The Wall Street Journal, ScientificAmerican.com, Guernica, Mental Floss, Tablet, The Awl, and many other outlets. In October, the course, taught by historians Daniela Blei and Andrea Volpe, will include Q & As with editors from The AtlanticSmithsonian.com, and Mosaic Science, along with Q and As with academics who are now writing fulltime for public audiences. Course runs October 15-29. Cost is $300.

Contact Info:
Andrea Volpe
Contact Email: andrealvolpe@gmail.com
URL: https://thinkingwriter.org/how-to-pitch-submit/

Books About Writing: Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing

Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing, Robert Boice, 1990

Though this book is nearly 30 years old, much of the content is very relevant to anyone needing guidance about the writing process. Boice describes the components of how to start and continue writing.

The book is truly a self-help guide in that there are questions to help one assess personal challenges to writing, and exercises to establish productive strategies. He describes various types, such as spontaneous and generative writing. He also delves into why writers struggle: anxiety, lack of confidence, procrastination, inability to start or finish, and other psychological issues.

Boice’s manual is prescriptive, as it promotes a specific agenda to become a productive writer. Many authors, especially new or those who are required to write (e.g. for tenure) will find it helpful if they are continually challenged to make time for writing. Though mostly prescriptive, any writer can read it and glean tips that can be adapted to various writing processes.

Books About Writing: Air & Light & Time & Space

There are seemingly countless books about writing. When I was writing my dissertation, my adviser shared that when he was in grad school and starting his dissertation, he participated in writing workshops and read much about writing. He also said that one can use these resources to help with writing, but it is also possible that spending too much time on them can hinder the process. Meaning, too much effort to learn about writing does not replace writing itself.

However, many of us need something to jump start writing, overcome writer’s block, or to gain some helpful tips to continue. I’ve been looking through books about writing, not just for myself but to have ideas to recommend to others who are interested. I’m not reading them in their entirety, but skimming them to see if they are helpful for those writing in our profession.

I’m going to start posting some brief reviews about books that I hope you will find helpful.

Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write by Helen Sword
I came across this book when reading a blog that recommends books about academic writing (sorry, can’t remember where). It is an easy read, and I read the first few chapters fairly quickly.

This isn’t a book to keep on hand all the time, but instead one to look at as you start writing, whether a new or seasoned writer. Sword introduces a framework that any writer can customize to his or her own style. She specifically states this book provides no “ready-made blueprint,” but a flexible approach to planning and understanding one’s individual process. She describes the framework as four habits: behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional. All writers have these, it’s a matter of discovering them within themselves.

Much of Sword’s book is a compilation of writers’ descriptions of their practices based on interviews she conducted. These vignettes offer ideas as well as comfort; many writers share their struggles and how they overcome them (or try to).

Because I struggle with writing (as most of us do), I appreciate the concepts to help me identify how I can think about writing through assessing my habits and how to make them work for me. I especially like that it is not a strict prescription for writing, that it has something different for everyone.

Guest Post, Part 1: Are Archives Graduate Programs Adequately Preparing Students for Publishing, Researching, and Writing in the Profession?

Thank you to Joshua Zimmerman, lecturer at San Jose State University’s iSchool, for this fantastic post. His in-depth perspective is in 2 posts and I encourage everyone to read it thoroughly. Josh has great strategies to help emerging professionals prepare for and contribute to the intellectual discourse of archival scholarship. (Read Part 2)

________

Are archives graduate program adequately preparing students for the profession? As an adjunct lecturer in the Masters of Archives and Records Administration (MARA) online master’s degree program in San José State University’s iSchool, this is a question that I’m constantly asking myself as I hear from students and other professionals. For readers of this blog, perhaps a more relevant but related question would be: are archives graduate programs adequately preparing students for publishing, researching, and writing in the profession? As the one responsible for teaching MARA 285 Research Methods in Records Management and Archival Science, I’m extremely concerned with this question. I thought that readers might be interested in how our research and publishing culture is being taught in one small corner of the profession.

As you read this, I want you to think back to how you were introduced to the norms of researching and publishing in our profession? Were these skills taught in your graduate program, did you already have them, or did you have to pick them up later? Finally, what do you wish you would have learned about writing, researching, and publishing in the archives profession as a graduate student? Keep the answers to these questions in mind as you read below. I’d love to know how MARA 285 stacks up to your experiences, good or bad.

Assignments and Assignment Format

The overall structure and framework of MARA 285 is one that I inherited from a colleague, Jason Kaltenbacher who is also an adjunct professor in the MARA program. While my lectures significantly differ from his, I’ve kept the assignments and overall structure basically the same. Other research courses in the iSchool (and in other MLIS programs), I have found, employ a similar assignment format. I ask students to complete an annotated bibliography, topic proposal, literature review, and final proposal. These assignments build on each other and help students complete the steps in putting together both a formal proposal and the framework of a major research project. Since the internet survey has become the preferred data gathering tool of the profession, I also ask them to complete a group survey project where they develop a short internet survey, cover letter, and rationale statement for each question. 

Social Science Focus

When I first took this course on and looked at the assignments and overall structure, I felt that I wanted to radically change the end project to a publishable article. This would be immediately usable to students as they could submit it to journals and present it elsewhere at conferences or on professional or personal blogs. Within the last couple years, my alma mater (Western Washington University) changed their MA thesis requirement to a much smaller publishable article which, I think, seeks to address this aim. Yet, after using the old proposal assignment structure that I inherited for two years, I’ve completely changed my tune.

I discovered just how important it was to snap students out of what I call the “term paper mentality,” an assignment format that most students are particularly used to and, as I’ve discovered, often revert to if given the chance. This course structure offers students the chance to approach a topic systematically, more like a project than a paper. Instead of writing a term paper and trying to wrap up all the loose ends up by the end of the semester, the objective is only to build the structure in order to execute it after the course concludes. This means, that they design the research, but they stop short of sending out the survey, conducting the field work, or digging into records in an archives. I feel that this format ties in better with the assigned textbook chapters that break down different aspects or approaches to research. It also forces students to step back and formalize what they are doing and more importantly, how they plan on doing it. They are asked to put together a research schedule and justify why they are qualified to conduct this research as part of the final proposal.

Challenges, Problems, and Issues

One problem that I encountered during the first year concerned appropriate topic choices. Other courses in the MARA program such as Enterprise Content Management and Digital Preservation or Management of Records and Archival Institutions have clearly defined topic limits. These are built into the course. For instance, you probably can’t write a term paper on medieval recordkeeping for the Enterprise Content Management and Digital Preservation class.

MARA 285, however, is wide almost wide open as far as potential research topics go. That medieval recordkeeping topic is fair game in MARA 285. While there are endless opportunities for topics, there are nevertheless some limitations. I ask that students choose a topic related to the archives, RIM, or library science fields. I encourage students to bring in their interests and give it a records twist. For instance, last year, one military historian in the class designed a project around military recordkeeping. Though the course is taught from a social science perspective, I want students to specifically engage the professional literature of archives and RIM. This year, in addition to some clarifying language and a preemptory blog post on the MARA program website, I’ve added the typology of archives research topics by Couture and Ducharme (1). This typology spells out all the flavors of research conducted in the archives profession (and by extension, RIM). This seemed to have helped students frame their research within the profession.

Another problem that occurred this year was students’ lack of confidence in their professional experience. Unfortunately, due to scheduling, some students take this class as a first year student and in their first semester. To those working in the profession, this might not be a big issue, but for someone who is brand new to the profession, this course might be a bit daunting because it asks students to choose a topic in the profession and develop it over the course of the semester. As mentioned above, I provide guidance on choosing topics in the lecture, but especially for the literature review which asks students to isolate the major literature on their particular topic, this has been stressful or at least it has been related to me as such. This is sometimes daunting for seasoned archivists, let alone first year students. 

Incorporating Perspectives

In addition to the assignments and readings mentioned above, I’ve added a video series called Research in the Wild. In it, the class gets to hear about the research and writing process from other archivists and records managers. I launched it late in the course in 2015 with a few videos, mostly 5-10 minutes. This year, I have a video for nearly each module and hopefully a lot more for next year. Video submissions have addressed specific project-related research challenges as well as more broadly, research agendas, theses, the editing process, differences in publishing in and out of school, and Fulbright Scholarship research among others. In my own archival program, I enjoyed hearing from guest lecturers and talking with archivists and RMs on field trips and it’s these experiences that I’ve tried to recreate. I felt a bit uncomfortable asking archivists and records managers to do free work for me, so I decided to donate to SAA’s Mosaic Scholarship on behalf of those who submit videos. If you’d like to submit a video for next year or know someone who might, please let me know (zimmerj6@gmail.com). From some early feedback from students this year, I’ve learned that the writing process might be more important than I initially thought. So as a result, I’ll be seeking archivists and RIMs who want to talk about this aspect of the profession.