“How can I find the time to write this paper, between teaching and administration?”. To this perennial question, Dr Silvia offers a straightforward answer in his book “Write it up!” (Washington, APA Life Tools, 2007): plan your writing; agree times with yourself and put them in your diary; protect them from other commitments; sit down and do the writing – every day a little bit, but “every little helps” to get you to write this paper eventually.
As such this piece of advice looks simple, so simple that a part of me says: “of course”. The other part of me starts right away looking for excuses and explanations for why this does not work like that for my own writing. I do manage to keep deadlines when it comes to teaching, reports or students’ reference letters after all. So why do I need excuses when it comes to writing? Dr Silvia knows very well of all these potential excuses: “I need to have inspiration first”; “I need to have a large chunk of time to get focused on my research ideas”. My personal favourite excuse is that I need to read first this specific master piece that will provide me with the conceptual foundation for my research question, yet unfortunately needs first to be ordered online and will not arrive before another six weeks. I promise you that even in the world of amazon fast delivery, these rare and precious monographs still exist! As I said, I am aware this is just a trick of my mind to put off some of my thinking process. More problematic is the effect that this has on my use of my research time. I will start organising events, meetings, research trips (I am presently becoming as close as possible for me to an expert travel agent for some European countries) or write a book review. It is pernicious because in some way I need to do that and this does indeed contribute to my thinking and my overall personal development. I am at least convinced that discussing with colleagues and practitioners within their work environment and the actual academic interactions opens my eyes to the realities of their intellectual maps in extraordinary ways and that reading a paper would have left me blind to these important factors that shape our understanding of “living law”. However, this is time consuming and does not bring me directly closer to the beloved well thought through paper that should become a reference in my field for years to come.
So once my conundrum is acknowledged, what do I do about it? Where do I go from here? Two strands of advice come to my mind: the first one is included in “Write it up”; the second comes from within distinguished legal scholarship.
The first strand of advice included in “Write it up” relates to the psychological motivation underlying research. We need various supports, both individual and collective, to develop our writing and we need a structure to do so. Keeping a regular writing pattern helps us because it does reduce our inner resistance in face of a writing process that can be unrewarding on the spot (the reward is uncertain, depending on papers being accepted or not, with the anxiety that is connected with what we take as a personal rejection). We also need collective support, such as a “agraphia” group or a group where we discuss our writing process and research ideas. Provided the group members are motivated and motivating, these regular meetings are a source of suggestions and energy that is really precious.
The second strand of advice comes from Professor Weiler, who gives young academics suggestions for developing their career (in a series of editorials to I-Connect, especially “On My Way Out – Advice to Young Scholars II: Career Strategy and the Publication Trap”). From his wisdom, I took the following key ideas. Research is a great privilege that we need to balance carefully with other tasks. Firstly, research is only one part of my identity as an academic, next to being a teacher. Teaching, really “good teaching”, would require me to develop into a human being enthusiastic about sharing and learning with and from students, eager to explore intellectual ideas with them and invite them to challenge preconceived ideas. Teaching is connected undoubtedly with research, but it is in no way limited to being a prolific writer.
Secondly, research is not only about quantity, it is also about quality. It is not only about numbers. It is also about the aim with which I write. It is not only about the various scattered pieces of writing that I can produce during the course of my career – even if each piece can very well stand on its own. It is also about the development of an overall research agenda that stretches me out of my comfort zone ! Such an approach to research strikes a very deep chord in me. I like this approach a lot because it opens up for me a wide horizon of opportunities for continuous learning and growing up, without being trapped in a narrow piece of technical writing! In many ways it frees me from the anxiety that my next piece will not be good enough. Each piece is a drop in an ocean, yes, but a meaningful ocean. In other words: it is a direction-oriented river – with springs deep in the mountains and meandering slowly towards adding its small contribution to the wider ocean. My job is to make the connections and design the research accordingly.
Now, in order to make this approach concrete and not a mere illusion (always a looming danger with me), the practical suggestions that “Write it up!” mention are excellent. With that bigger picture in mind, I am motivated to leave my “fake” excuses aside and to put in practice the to do lists that Dr Silvia suggests (such as setting concrete daily goals, setting priorities, monitoring progress etc. ). Breaking down the writing process in smaller manageable chunks and getting regularly behind my desk and do this little, small, mundane, microscopic piece of my jigsaw does make sense to me. At the end, with a lot of encouragement and support from colleagues and team members, these little pieces will contribute to the bigger piece of research that matters to me! They will shape my thinking and make of me a better scholar as well as a better human being, more patient and more rooted in the concrete challenges and opportunities of life !
Now, Yseult: open your diary and make your writing planning for the coming month ! Good luck !
Yseult Marique, Essex School of Law
(Suggested citation: Y. Marique, “Thoughts about “Write it up!”, available at:https://law-academics-unblocked.org/2017/02/01/marique-thoughts-about-write-it-up)