About Gardening: Publish or Perish

I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.

George R.R. Martin

I’m a gardener. I have an idea, I start writing, I develop my text. In some instances, I rearrange a lot. In others, the text seems sound as it is. I recently submitted a paper to a journal, for example, and I barely changed anything. They accepted it. (Finally, some good news!)

My PhD dissertation, in contrast, I rearranged a lot. I always begin the writing process quite early. It motivates me to see that I produced something. And even though I always cut a few passages during the process, most of my writing is part of the final text–whatever ‘final’ means in academic writing. But with longer texts, I’m also a bit of an architect. Not right away, necessarily, but at some point in the beginning, I start thinking about an outline: my main chapters, maybe even some subchapters.

Early on in our academic careers we learn that we have to publish. We have to place our work in peer reviewed journals. And these journals should have a high impact. Easier said than done. You can often tell if a text was written by a young scholar–even I can and I guess that’s even truer for more experienced scholars/reviewers. We lack experience. We lack comparative material. And maybe, we even lack style. (Even though we want to tell ourselves that we write in a most accomplished style.) For some journals, we have to pay a processing fee or we have to be a member of the publishing association/society. Which we may not be able to afford.

We know that we have to publish, but most of the time, we don’t have any noteworthy material beyond our PhD dissertations. And we cannot publish too much of our dissertation because publishers might not want to publish our dissertations if everything has been published before. And we often don’t have enough time to work on articles. PhD dissertation or article? We have to finish our PhD. Without our PhD we won’t stay in academia. We have to present an exhausting list of publications. Without a sufficient number of publications we won’t stay in academia.

And honestly, we never have enough time. A PhD is more than a full-time job. (And it must be even worse without funding.) After we finish our PhD, we barely have a job in academia right away. So we have to somehow make time (use our free time) while having non-academic jobs. I cannot write an article while making coffee.

I guess you have to love academia to stay in academia. I do. Although it’s difficult at times. Publish or perish.

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