I have to admit something . . . I am not a good writer. I don’t even think I can be a good writer. I believe good writing takes talent and I am lacking that talent. Of course this is an issue because I dream of becoming a member of the faculty and a scholar one day. I really like professional scholarship and admire those who are good at it. But, alas, I struggle. But that does not mean I should not try. That is why I am beginning with this blog. I figure if I get in the practice of writing everyday, even if it is just quirky observations and personal exploits then I will grow into a better writer and that will help my scholarship.
The first step recently has been to admit that I am not a great writer because, despite my over 20 years of experience in higher education, I have not had to write a whole lot. I’ve written a few articles for the National Association for Campus Activities Programming Magazine, completed my dissertation, and I blogged for UCF for a year. Here is one I wrote in 2017 where I compared Higher Education to Zoos . But overall when I had to really write something good I needed help.
I was honestly lost a bit until I came across an advice think piece written by Manya Whitaker, assistant professor of education at Colorado College. Her article titled; How to Advocate for Yourself as an Early-Career Scholar really resonated with me. The first phrase that drew me in was the term “early career”. The reason was I don’t consider myself as early career. I’ve been working for universities for over 20 years. Then it dawned on me, when it comes to scholarship and writing, I am a newbie. The second word was “advocate”, I really never considered I needed to advocate for myself. I always figured my work spoke for itself. But that is not true. There is only one person who really believes in your abilities and talents and that is you. After all, you are in your own head, you know what you know and don’t know so it is up to you to articulate that to those who can give you writing opportunities.
After reading Manya’s article I decided to re-purpose her advice and give some of my own. These may not be right but they are the rules I intend to follow to get better at this scholarship thing.
- Understand that most of my scholarly work is on my own and not my job – most of this work is not built into the day to day work that I do as an Executive Director of a University Consortium. While some of my writing will be informed by my career it will exist mostly in work done “off the clock.”
- I have to maintain partnerships and networks – Writing may seem like a solitary activity. When we picture a writer we often picture this:
But really that is not the case. I have learned from one very good friend of mine that most of his writing happens when he works with others, collaborates on projects, and forms networks. I have sort of resisted that because I often feel that is an easy way out but that is not the case. Writing is a communal act that needs others to thrive.
- In order to be good at writing, you need to be good at reading – Most of the good scholars I know are also voracious readers. They are aware of the best practices, newest theories, and most recent data. They are three steps ahead in terms of idea generation and sources to pull from to be get to the art of writing faster, adding depth, and becoming an expert. I need to read a lot more.
- Good writers have a perspective and a narrow focus – I am not sure there are a lot of generalist scholars or writers who can write about a myriad of topics with equal measure of expertise. I need to narrow my focus and find the two or three topics I will explore in depth. I am not sure what that is but I am working on it. I am thinking something for work: the college to career continuum; something for me: writing and thinking about music and pop culture; and finally writing my personal narrative. I think it is important to find a voice that is both professional and personal.
- Be patient – Good writing takes time and I will have many times I will struggle, suffer from writers block and otherwise fail. That is okay. I just need to pick myself up and get back at it. Give myself the space to be lazy sometimes and other times to be more engaged.
- Advocate for myself – If I have a good idea or write something I am happy with, I need to get it out into the world. Share it on social media, apply to have it included in a journal, and use my scholarship as a backdrop for academic presentations. I need to let others hear my voice.
Overall I think I have what it takes to be a good scholar and writer but it will take time. So instead of writing and sheepishly hiding my thoughts, I am going to place them in the open so anyone can read and react. Afterall, if I want to be a scholar and faculty member, it won’t happen if I don’t get out there.