WHAT WORKS FOR ME: 10 TIPS FOR GETTING PUBLISHED
Part I of a two-part article by Steven J. Bell, Director of the Paul J. Gutman Library at Philadelphia University, [email protected]
Given the number of articles getting published annually in an ever-growing body of professional library journals, it seems that every librarian has contributed at least once, and some many more times, to the literature of librarianship. The reality of the situation is that many librarians have yet to publish professionally, and many desire to do so. A potential author's inability to produce a publishable article can be particularly frustrating when more library literature is being produced than ever and the number of journals has expanded to accommodate the flood of articles.
To support their colleagues in the hope of spurring more librarians into the world of publication, some libraries are sponsoring writing for authorship workshops. The idea is to provide a safe and nurturing environment in which colleagues can share ideas, outlines, manuscript drafts, and hear from speakers bought in to share experience and wisdom with the local library staff.
I recently served as a guest speaker at just such a workshop for the library staff. All I had to offer in the way of wisdom, and that in small quantities, was advice from my own experiences as a relatively consistent author, able to churn out another article every few months. In other words, I just told the group what works for me. I thought I'd share some of my pearls of wisdom with Ex Libris readers. I hope others will add their own "what works for me" ideas.
Tip One - Write EverydayThis may seem painfully obvious but it can't be stated often enough. Little of one's undergraduate experience is memorable, but I always remember my senior year English professor. He said "Writing is like swimming. You must practice it constantly if you expect to get better." Even if you just scribble down some thoughts, that can make a difference.
Still, many would-be writers complain of lacking time to write regularly. If lack of time prevented librarians from authoring articles, I think every journal we know of would run dry tomorrow. Who among us ever has enough time to do all their work and publish? If your goal is to publish an article, you must come to terms with the harsh reality of carving out some time in your already busy schedule. That leads to Tip Two.
Tip Two - Establish a Dedicated Time and Place for WritingWhen I tell librarians that they need to become disciplined about their writing, whether they commit to arriving at work an hour earlier or writing for an hour before going to bed, groans are usually what I get in response. There is no escaping the fact that if time is a barrier to writing, you need to either add more time from somewhere else or make some sacrifices. But once you sit down to write at the same time on as many days as possible, it starts to become habitual. It also helps if you have a regular writing spot. I do not know the inner workings behind the process of having a routine time and place for writing. I only know that it helps. Do your best to carve out a time and place where you are least likely to be disturbed.
Tip Three - Writing That Primes The PumpLack of time is certainly a barrier to publication, but so is lacking something substantive to write. Now that you have a dedicated time and place, what do you do there? Well, until that great idea comes to mind almost any form of writing will help. How about writing out notes that summarize an article that you read? The keeping of a daily journal is certainly a common technique. Almost any activity that can enable you to produce a single page of text should be sufficient to get your mind and body engaged in the writing process.
What about a public blog? I don't recommend it unless you have a great idea for a thematic blog that is sustainable and will enable or force you to write everyday. Consider the many existing librarian blogs that are rarely updated and read even less. If you have no plan or desire to share your thoughts publicly, don't bother with the technology. Just go with a plain old composition book and keep your own journal. Until such time as you focus on a topic, be it a program you are conducting at your library, an analysis of some existing research where you can add a new perspective, a survey about an issue you think we need to know more about - do your best to write regularly.
Tip Four - Generating Good IdeasWalt Crawford perhaps said it best with the title of his book, First Have Something To Say. Most of us work in fairly stimulating environments so you'd think there would be plenty of grist for the mill when it comes to article ideas. But along with those other constraints another common barrier to publication is coming up with a good idea.
The essence of this tip comes from an article I found in an issue of the Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge e-newsletter. In an article titled "The Secrets of Successful Idea People" five experts gave the same piece of advice: read. But they emphasized that reading outside of one's own discipline is invaluable for generating new ideas. Establishing a regular regimen of reading need not be time consuming, especially if one selectively chooses from among the many free e-newsletters published for librarianship and peripheral fields. My "Keeping Up Web Site" <http://staff.philau.edu/bells/keepup> lists many of them, along with other ideas and technologies for developing a keeping up regimen.
I can't tell you how many inspirations and ideas have come from my keeping up routine. Allow 30 minutes a day for reading that leads to ideas. While you're keeping up, make sure you have a utility that you can use to capture and organize the information you find. [See Chris Sherman's article on these services at http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/opt/article.php/3395121.]
Discovering a good source of inspiration won't help you if you can't find it when you want to reference it in your writing. There are a number of good utilities that will allow you to capture web pages and have the ability to retrieve them when needed - even if the page no longer accessible. Among them are FURL <http://www.searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3311191>, Onfolio <http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3325721>, and Catch-The-Web <http://www.catchtheweb.com/>.
Finally a word about well-covered ideas, or what I might refer to as "done to death" or "jumping on the bandwagon" ideas. You know them - information literacy, blogging in the library, digitization projects, virtual reference. I don't think these are off limits, but you need to bring a different perspective to any of these topics.
A good example is an article from the last issue of Portal: the Library and the Academy. An author wrote about teaching students to evaluate web sites. There are dozens of articles on this topic. But this author turned the topic on its head, and questioned if the traditional advice we give to students really makes any sense. The article suggested an alternate way of helping students learn how to evaluate web sites. So common topics can make for good ideas, but you need to bring a truly unique approach.
Tip Five - Listen To What Librarians Are Grousing AboutWho hasn't been to a library conference or followed an e-discussion list where librarians are heard complaining about something that needs fixing or improvement, or some need that is going unfulfilled. But did you LISTEN? If you listen carefully you will hear them, and these complaints are calls for research that leads to publication.
At a past ALA mid-winter meeting I heard a librarian ask "What are people using to help keep up with all of the change in the profession?" There was silence. I knew right then that providing information about good sources for keeping up would fill an unmet need. So far, that has led to three publications, several conference presentations, and a website that's visited about 400 times a week. Not bad for perking up for that one question. Think this was a fluke? I don't think so.
Part II will appear next week.
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What the brain really needed was space without volume. So it took a radical step and did something unparalleled in the history of life on earth. It began storing information and memories outside itself, on stone, papyrus, paper, computer chips and film. This astonishing feat is so familiar a part of our lives that we don't think much about it. But it was an amazing and rather strange solution to what was essentially a packing problem: just store your essentials elsewhere and avoid cluttering up the cave..."Are you out of your mind?" we sometimes demand. The answer is, yes, we are all out of our minds, which we left long ago when our brain needed more room to do its dance. Or rather, out of our brain. A born remodeler, it made as many additions as building codes allowed, then designed two kinds of storage bins. Information could be put into things like books, that felt good in the hand, and also onto invisible things like airwaves and Intnernets.
Diane Ackerman. An Alchemy of Mind. Scribner, 2004.
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