Revising an In-Progress Article

Decorative: A type page of text with editing marks on it and a pen lying across the page


A. "A New Series on Scholarly Productivity: 'Are Your Writing?'" (post) is the first in a series of articles by Chronicle Vitae "offering suggestions [for academics] on how to write more — and better — with less angst."

This article does the following:

  • Surveys features of "[t]he cult of terminally put-upon busy-ness ... entrenched in higher education" that often make writing coaches necessary (or at least desirable) for sustained academic production
  • Presents a three-question quiz to help you determine if "[y]our work habits are interfering with your life"
  • Outlines a specific, concrete "intervention" to try "[i]f you’re embroiled in an article or chapter revision that you feel will never end"

B. The Suggested Intervention

"If you’re embroiled in an article or chapter revision that you feel will never end, try this approach":

1. "First, read through the whole thing as if you were a thorough peer reviewer, tasked with locating all of the work’s problems — but not with solving them."

  • "Mark up every problem you see, but don’t do anything about any of them yet." 
  • "Do this for as little as 20 minutes a day — but no more than 60 — on three to five work days a week, as your teaching schedule allows, until you’ve read through the whole thing."
  • "How long this takes will depend on how long your thing is, but it’s a non-negotiable step."

2. "Next, take a rest from the manuscript for a day or two."

  • "Try to set aside all work, but if you can’t, at least do something other than that project."
  • "Then come back to your draft and catalog the problems you find on a 1-to-3 scale of difficulty, with Level 1 for anything you can fix in less than 30 minutes; Level 2 for anything you can fix in less than two hours, and Level 3 for something major that is, let’s face it, gonna take awhile to correct."

3. "Then, instead of getting bogged down in the most difficult problems, fix the easiest ones first."

  • "That way, by the time you’re ready to tackle those Level 3s, you’ll have momentum on your side."

4. "But that’s going to take too much time, you might protest."

  • "It won’t. It’s a realistic account of how long it takes to revise an article without sinking into a vortex of self-loathing and gibberish."
  • "If you think you can (or should) revise a 25-page article in less than, say, three to four weeks (with a full teaching load), then that’s the kind of magical-thinking trap that gets you flunking my quiz."
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