Mell. Or, write like a gangster.

[I caught the above image when riding the bus yesterday: tough-looking middle-aged men eating at “Mell,” a weird echo of the sidewalk gatherings at Satriale’s Pork Store in The Sopranos. The photo is only loosely related to this post.]

In Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, Wendy Belcher points out that

Writing is to academia what sex was to nineteenth-century Vienna: everybody does it and nobody talks about it. The leading researcher on academic writers found that most academics were more willing to talk about even their most personal problems, including sexual dysfunction, than about problems with writing (Boice 1990, 1).1 The prevalent belief among academics seems to be that writing, like sex, should come naturally and should be performed in polite privacy.

Because of this silence, writing dysfunction is common in academia. A recent survey of over 40,000 U.S. faculty revealed that 26 percent of professors spent zero hours a week writing, and almost 27 percent had never published a peer-reviewed journal article (Lindholm et al. 2005). In addition, 43 percent had not published any piece of writing in the past two years. The majority, 62 percent, had never published a book. Put another way, only 25 percent of faculty spent more than eight hours every week writing and only 28 percent of faculty had produced more than two publications in the past two years. Furthermore, these statistics are self-reported and reflect the activities of only those organized enough to respond to the survey. Some scholars believe the figure is much lower, estimating productive academic writers as less than 15 percent of faculty (Moxley and Taylor 1997, Simonton 1988).

Belcher suggests that contrary to myth, successful academic writing is a social not a solo activity. There’s plenty of evidence to support this view, but in the interest of getting writing done today, I’m not going to spend time tracking down links.

In any event, as my last post suggests, making writing a social activity is one of the angles I’ve been hitting recently, and I do think it’s keeping me afloat right now. Afloat may not be good enough, but it’s better than drowning, right? Right.

Here are the things I’ve been doing:

  • I reconnected with a colleague from my pre-doctoral year at the Stanford Humanities Center who happens to be in Paris currently. He’s a historian and we both work on violence-oriented topics and we’re exchanging drafts of current stuff.
  • I’m doing a virtual reading/accountability group with a fellow ECR art historian in the states.
  • I’m doing virtual “work units” with THE original accountabilibuddy, HT Mary. (I wouldn’t have finished the diss without HT Mary, so this bodes well) (if you’re wondering what virtual work units are: we check in on chat and then start the timer, check in when it’s over. helps enormously for focus and not falling into random web surfing).
  • I meet twice a week with some academics here in Paris for coffee, venting, and then 45 minutes of #shutupandwrite.
  • I tweet from time to time.
  • I blog from time to time.
  • mp gives me shit and/or encourages me from time to time.

After the winter months of feeling pretty isolated in my work, I’m very proud to be doing all these things now. There are still a ton of writing demons to battle, but all of these things have been ensuring steady progress. I may–I mean, I will–write a book yet.

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