The Marathon of Academic Writing and Getting Out of Your Own Way

AHA Session 87
Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Continental A (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
William Alan Taylor, Angelo State University
Cassandra Clark, University of Utah and American West Center
Lea Galanter, Gallant Editorial Services
Margaret Puskar-Pasewicz, MargaretEdits
Katie Van Heest, Tweed Academic Editing

Session Abstract

Writing is at the heart of what we do as historians. Being an effective and efficient scholar is even more imperative for people in their early careers who are told to “publish or perish!” Yet, the craft of academic writing from the dissertation and beyond tends to be shrouded in mystery. This panel is intended to move beyond the smoke-and-mirrors approach to historical scholarship and provide practical and creative strategies for effective academic writing. How do scholars develop their dissertations into a book manuscript? How do scholars connect with readers and impress publishers? How do scholars overcome stumbling blocks to writing including struggles with mental health issues?

In graduate school, students are expected to complete original research that demonstrates the breadth and depth of their knowledge to a highly specialized audience. As early-career historians, scholars need to move beyond merely proving their knowledge. They must now develop an argument that can be traced consistently throughout their book that ideally propels the field and the discipline at-large in new directions. Writers must develop a scholarly voice for the book, which distinguishes it from the tentative claims of the dissertation. They must organize years of research into a compelling and coherent narrative. And finally, their writing must appeal to an acquisitions editor within the very competitive arena of academic publishing. This is a lot to ask scholars who are already devoting substantial time to teaching and committee work. Sometimes it is difficult even to get started. Our presentations will provide ideas for developing a regular writing habit, strengthening your argument and tone, as well as the specific challenges faced by early-career historians who struggle with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Early-career historians are often so focused on the need to “publisher or perish,” that they forget that writing is an art that must be practiced and developed. Furthermore, as historians are encouraged to move beyond the confines of a particular field or even discipline, the need to practice good writing becomes even more important. We will talk about what “good” historical writing looks like in 2018. Compelling historical writing and adhering to academic standards need not be mutually exclusive. We will discuss the basics of human storytelling as well as the need for clear and jargon-free language in academic writing.

Our panel includes experienced academic editors and scholars who have successfully published articles and books. We hope to have a wide-ranging and honest conversation about the challenges of historical writing and practical strategies for overcoming them. Academic writing is a marathon, not a sprint, so let’s start by getting out of our own ways.

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