Saturday, April 8, 2017

Getting to the Publishable Draft

Guest Post by Sociologist, Lisa Wade

I asked to reprint Dr. Wade's column below because it nicely illustrates the important point that most graduate students and beginning writers never get to see published authors in the process of writing, only the finished product. I often find that graduate students and new writers are disappointed with their first drafts because they are making invidious comparisons between their rough draft and draft 5 (or maybe 36) of their very favorite authors (i.e., the very best writing their field has to offer). This is simultaneously inferiority complex . . . and hubris. One cannot successfully complete a thesis or a book without realizing that everybody's first draft sucks (maybe worse than yours!) This realization is the first (I would say primary) step in becoming a successful academic or writer.

On intellectual thrashing: My thanks to Dorothy Roberts

Lisa Wade, PhD on April 7, 2017

One of the most important moments of my graduate education occurred during a talk by Dorothy Roberts for the sociology department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. At the time I had been teaching her book, Killing the Black Body. I thought this book was genius, absolutely loved it, so I was really excited to be seeing her in person.

I sat in anticipation; she was introduced and then, before she launched into the substance of her talk, she apologized for likely weaknesses in her thinking as, she explained, she had only been thinking about it for “about a year.”

I was stunned.

I couldn’t believe that Dorothy Roberts would have to think about anything for a year. In my mind, her brilliance appeared full form, in a span of mere moments, perfectly articulated.

Her comment made me realize, for the first time, that the fantastic books and expertly-crafted journal articles written by scholars were the result of hard work, not just genius. And I realized that part of the task of writing these things is to hide all of the hard work that goes into writing them. They read as if it were obvious that the conclusions of the paper are true when, in fact, the conclusion on paper are probably just one of many sets of possible conclusions with which the author experimented. Roberts’ humble admission made me realize that all of the wild intellectual goose chases, mental thrashing, deleted passages, and revised arguments were part of my job, not evidence that I was perpetually failing.

And I was and am tremendously grateful to Dr. Roberts for that insight.

Reprinted with Lisa Wade's permission from Sociological Images

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram,.

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