As Twitter’s Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) has only just finished, your motivation for writing might already be exhausted. But don’t give up now! Our correspondent Sarah Wayland writes about journal papers that remain unpublished, due to being unsubmitted or rejected. What does it take for such homeless journal papers to be published?
In the midst of procrastination I often clean my desk. Re-stacking those notepads from past research projects, finding old post-it notes listing priorities that have long since passed and the bones of papers partially written.
Anne Lamott, author of the writerly tome ‘bird by bird’ concedes the power of publication, as an ‘acknowledgment that you did your writing right’ and that, that knowledge can bring the writer ‘quiet joy’. That joy can be an uncommon space for academics attempting to share their thoughts since journal papers are rejected more than they are accepted. This makes publication a challenge rather than a key element of our work. Minor revisions can become major headaches and the capacity to pick yourself up and move forwards can get more challenging as you increase your publication output. So how can we, as 2016 draws to a close, find space for the papers that don’t currently have a home?
I remember receiving feedback on my very first academic publication, opening up the email and scanning the response from the editor with only one eye open, desperately hoping that my hard work was going to be rewarded (while simultaneously bracing for the barrage of comments on what wasn’t good enough). As luck (or perhaps finding a ‘good fit’) would have it, the paper was accepted, albeit with significant revisions. But many of the papers I have sent out to the universe since then haven’t been so lucky. The constant battle between ego and time constraints is to always ensure that a paper you are hoping to rehome doesn’t get placed at the bottom of a pile. Inside higher Ed. suggests that in order to keep focusing on publication academics need to acknowledge the realities; that a high proportion of papers are rejected at one point or another (somewhere between 85 and 90%). It identifies that in order to refocus we need to ‘sit’ with the disappointment whilst identifying a way to bounce back rather than accept the closing of the door. So for me, in the space between rejection and writing (and once I’ve crawled out of my cave), I try to do the following:
- Take time to review comments
- Revise the article and send it to another journal
- Or pop the paper away if you need space to work out where to go next, but remember to set a reminder to review it at a later stage
- Seek out the support of colleagues that may not have read your work, ask them for feedback
- Find new people to collaborate with as a way to help you revise or complete your paper
- Read/read/read in order to find your paper a home. Remember that sometimes the traditional journal might not suit your writing, so look for opportunities to write for mainstream media, a guest blogger for academic blogs or even book reviews and opinion pieces
The problem with allowing the orphan or homeless papers to accumulate is that we are choosing to abandon a piece of writing that we once dedicated time to. The danger is that we might choose to sometimes close off a whole line of research that could have added value add to the discipline. Focusing our attention on the horror stories of harsh rejections does little to raise the spirits enough to resurrect an important piece of academic work.
Developing a clear publication strategy, learning how to recover from review comments and agreeing that the development of a thick skin is not a trait that all of us are capable of are all important to writing motivation. They suggest ways that we can invest just a little more to find the right family for the homeless papers after all.
How many of your papers have you started but set aside and not yet published? (in the spirit of transparency, I have 6, that I remember…)