Bitty Writing Hell

book finished photo.jpgUs writers do the whole ‘grass is greener’ thing just like everybody else. When I was writing my last book, I was longing to get to the journal articles and other projects that were piling up on my to-do list. Now I’m drowning in shorter projects and it’s driving me crazy. Look! Pictorial evidence! I can’t wait to be working on one big long book again, when I will undoubtedly become sane and well organised (cough).

Here’s my current shorter project to-do list:

  1. Research Ethics for your PhD – 1,000 words written, approx 9,000 to go
  2. Finishing Your PhD – not started
  3. Another short e-book, a co-authored Top Secret Project – out with beta readers
  4. Co-authored journal article #1, my co-author is currently responding to reviewers’ comments so with luck we’re nearly there
  5. Co-authored journal article #2, first draft done, at the bat-it-back-and-forth stage
  6. Journal article on third sector infrastructure and liminality – second draft done, with my former mentor from TSRC for feedback
  7. Book chapter on transformative research frameworks in practice for an edited collection for Sage – planned but not started
  8. Journal article on transformative research frameworks for a special issue of Qualitative Research – planned but not started

And I’m co-editing a special issue of the International Journal of Social Research Methodology, on research ethics, which is also involving quite a lot of bitty work.

I have quite a bit of writing to do in my day job right now, too, from proposals for new projects to reports for projects that are almost complete. And I’m making preparatory notes for my next full-length book. Plus, of course, there’s blogging. Hence the slight hiatus. I can’t even bring myself to tweet much at the moment, and I love Twitter.

In Belbin’s typology I am a strong ‘completer-finisher’ so this kind of workload drives me crazy. It’s one reason I can’t stand gardening: nothing is ever done. (I love gardens, though; I just prefer to believe they happen by natural magic.) My workload right now is very much like gardening. Plant a seed here, prune a branch there, trim a hedge, dig a hole… aarrgghh!!! My idea of a nightmare!

I know from experience that the only way out is through, and I just have to keep nibbling away at all the different jobs a bit at a time and they’ll eventually get done. But I have learned from experience that I am never, ever, again, going to take on so many short pieces of work at one time. I take comfort in the fact that the deadlines are all in the next five months, so by the autumn I will be free(er).

And the good news is, by then I should be ready to start writing the next full-length book. Though there is also talk of a second edition of my first research methods book, so I may still have more than one writing project on the go. In fact that’s almost inevitable. But if I just had two or three, rather than ten or a dozen, I think my life would feel a whole lot easier. In fact, I can’t wait.

New Book Launch: Writing Your PhD

WYPhD_blue_keyboard_LC_RGB.jpgToday I’m launching the fourth in the PhD Knowledge series. For new readers, this is a series of short e-books designed to help doctoral students with different aspects of the process. Although they’re called ‘PhD Knowledge’, they’re written with all doctoral students in mind, whether they’re studying for a scholarly PhD or a professional doctorate. And they’re also very affordable at £2.49/US$3.99/equivalents in other currencies.

The fourth book is called Writing Your PhD: An Introduction. It is full of tips and advice to help doctoral students get going, and keep going, with their writing. Writing is such an integral part of the doctoral process that it is impossible to ignore or avoid – and trying to do either of those things can lead to stress at best, failure at worst. But the good news is thSYPhD_green_SQmarks_noblend_LC2_RGBat academic writing can be taught and can be learned. In fact, I’m asked to teach writing skills in universities far more than I’m asked to teach anything else. And I know my courses help students because they tell me so on their feedback forms and, later, on Twitter.

I hope you, or someone you know, will find this book useful. Though if you (or they) haven’t started on a PhD yet, you might be interested to know that the first book in the PhD Knowledge series, Starting Your PhD: What You Need To Know, is now FREE to download from all platforms. So what are you waiting for?

Ten Top Tips for Successful Book Authoring

me at book launch croppedI feel qualified to write this post for a number of reasons. First, I am a successful author. Second, I have worked in publishing, as have several close relatives and friends. I’m assuming that you’re interested in writing for traditional publication; I intend to cover self-publishing in a different post. So here are my ten top tips for successful book authoring.

  1. Remember that publishers need you more than you need them. You can write and publish, online and in hard copy, without ever going anywhere near a publishing company. Conversely, publishers can’t function without authors.
  1. Find a book that needs to be written: ideally one you’ve looked for because you want to read or recommend it, and definitely one that doesn’t exist yet.
  1. Learn how the publishing business works. The more you understand about the process, the better you’ll be able to work with your publisher. This will also help to reduce the likelihood of potentially stressful surprises.
  1. Research different publishing companies and choose one that you think will suit you and your book. Don’t hesitate to ring one or more commissioning editors for your subject area to discuss your idea; their phone numbers should be on the publishers’ websites. It’s worth asking whether they already have something similar in the pipeline. If they do, finding out at an early stage will save you work; if they don’t, you can have more confidence in your idea. Also, a phone chat gives you a chance to suss them out and get a feel for whether you will be able to work together well.
  1. Negotiate a contract with deadlines you will be able to meet. You can ask for changes before you sign the contract; once it’s signed, there is no going back.
  1. If you’re in the UK, as soon as you have a draft contract, join the Society of Authors and ask them to vet the contract for you before you sign. (You can’t join the Society before you have a draft contract, unless you have already published a book or equivalent.) If you’re not in the UK, find out whether there’s a comparable organisation in your country – or, if you can afford it, get your draft contract checked by a suitably qualified and experienced lawyer.
  1. Calculate the number of words you need to write each week to meet your deadlines while leaving some time in hand for contingencies. Write that number of words each week.
  1. Be kind and courteous to the publisher’s staff, even at times when you may not feel particularly well-disposed towards them. Respond to their emails and phone messages in a timely fashion, and deal gracefully with feedback. Remember, they’re busy professionals too; just because publishers need authors doesn’t give you license to behave like a prima donna.
  1. Meet those deadlines.
  1. Be prepared to help publicise your book. The publisher’s marketing department should help, particularly around the time of publication, but they have new books to work on every month so they won’t be able to keep the focus on your book. But you can. Promotion doesn’t need to take up a huge amount of your time and effort, but it’s crazy not to do some basic tasks. Such as: add a link to the book to your email signature; get flyers from the publisher that you can hand out at conferences and other events; put the cover image on any slides or handouts you create. If you can use social media, so much the better, but anything you can do will help.

Of course there’s a lot more to becoming an author than that – but if you follow these top tips, the rest should fall into place. Good luck!

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

head scratchingSome people call me an expert. I even call myself one on occasion, usually when I’m trying to win work or funding. But I don’t feel like an expert – or perhaps I don’t feel like I expected an expert to feel.

When I was younger, I thought of an expert as someone who knew pretty much everything about their subject. It’s true that I know a lot about research methods, probably more than most people on the planet, but I don’t know anywhere near everything. Research methods is such a huge and fast-moving field that nobody could know everything, but I don’t think I even know as close to everything as possible. In fact I think I’m a long way from there. Lots of people know things about research methods that I don’t know and, however much more I learn, that will always be the case.

But I do know how to be confident, even when I don’t feel confident. I don’t mean I’m falsely confident: if I don’t know the answer to a question, I’ll say so; if I don’t understand what someone is saying, I’ll ask for clarification. When I was younger, I thought doing that would make me look stupid. Now, quite literally, I know better.

I can even be confident about working on a project when I don’t know what I’m doing. That is a stretch for my confidence – sometimes it wobbles a bit – but I can do it. For example, I’m writing a book on research and ethics. The working title is Biodegradable Research: Nourishing The Next Generation. I’ve been working on it since last summer. So far I have read half a dozen books and made notes from most of them, bought another 25 or so, interviewed eight people, and written 676 words. I’m at the exploratory stage and I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have a structure for the book, or its voice, or a writing style. I don’t really know what I want to say, beyond something about how research ethics is linked with institutional, political, and global ethics; that it doesn’t exist in a bubble of its own.

But I have faith in the process. It’s what I tell doctoral students: keep on reading, thinking, and writing, and you’ll get there in the end. I’ve done this a few times now, though each time is different. And I do have a glimmer of a plan: when I finish making the notes from the books I’ve read, I’m going to plug those and my interview transcripts into NVivo, do some emergent coding, and see what falls out. I hope that will help, though of course it may confuse me further. But if I’m lucky, I’ll start to spot some connections, relationships, and patterns, which will help me find the way.

This is how creativity often works in practice. Bumbling around, doing what you enjoy, whether that’s picking out tunes on an instrument, messing around with paints, or stringing words together to make sentences. Lots of fiddling and noodling, also known as practice, while you work out the song you want to sing, the picture you want to paint, or the book you want to write. Not really knowing what you’re doing. Even when you’re an expert.