Posts Tagged ‘ writing process ’

How (not) to write a paper: part III

[continued from here and here]

4,356 words down, and the paper is progressing, slowly, but quicker than I’d expected. I’m already wondering what other work I can fit into April. There’s the book proposal, but the co-editor wants to wait a few weeks until she visits London for a face-to-face meeting. Then there’s the paper I’m co-writing, but the other author can only do his sections in the second half of April and I can’t guarantee that I’ll be finished soon enough. Then there’s my Master’s student whose thesis I’m supervising. I worry about her progress, but supervising from a distance is so much harder than in person. How do you kick someone’s arse by email? What can you do from 600 miles away but send nagging emails covered in a thin veneer of pleasantries anyway?

But back to the paper. Check back over the old manuscript that I presented at the conference. Cut and paste and – hey presto – I’ve got another few chunks of text. Now to edit them into the flow of the paper, which is harder than it sounds. I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been easier to do it all afresh and avoid trying to shoe-horn this old stuff into the new paper. Oh well, I’ve started so I’ll finish.

This paragraph doesn’t fit at all, but I like it. Where does it go? It’s floating around and has no home. Sod this: shove it anywhere – highlight to remind myself – I’ll try again later – ctrl+s.

Now the theoretical sections are taking shape, maybe it’s time to look at empirical things. What themes do I have? Do I have enough material to make the argument I want to make (and do I need to ‘stretch’ it to sound definitive)? I’m certainly not the only one who has pushed the boundaries of how far one can take an argument without losing sight of the empirical material.

[Musical interlude as I take a few hours to help H with job interview preparation. I reassure myself that I’ll make up the time in the future. Brief gleam of happiness that my job allows me to do such things, followed by a dark cloud that reminds me of how much extra work I do on top of 9-5]

Completely lost my train of thought – check Facebook, check Twitter – nothing interesting. Check again. Check emails. Make cup of tea and pick the lumps out of the peanut butter while I wait for the kettle to boil. I need to get more exercise: working a few feet from my kitchen is a serious occupational hazard.

Back to the desk – check work emails, Facebook, personal emails – back to the paper. God, this floor is filthy – hovering is very tempting right now. FOCUS, DAMN IT.

One week until the deadline: when will the panic resurface? I need that fear to get the work done and stop faffing around. Why did I even consider what other work I could do this month? I must be delusional.

Check emails, read call for papers on entirely unrelated topic. Search author of said call for papers on the internet for no apparent reason. Yes, I definitely need the fear.


How (not) to write a paper: part II

[Continued from here ]

LIGHTBULB MOMENT! I wrote a formal paper for the Paris conference – surely I could lift quite a lot of material from that? Check back over old paper: most of this is irrelevant now. My topic has changed too much. Plus I spliced half of the lit review into that paper I had to stop in order to write this one. Damn.

But I can use some of the work on autonomy, and bits of the empirical sections. Good, good.

Still not sure what my conceptual ‘hook’ is. Autonomy is a bit over-done and I think it needs nuancing. Maybe this is my contribution? I bet no-one has applied autonomy to mobility, certainly not in a geography of tourism context. Better check to be sure…

Search Google Scholar, Web of Science et al.

Autonomy geography mobility

“autonomous geographies” mobility

“autonomous geographies” tourism travel

Geography “autonomous travel”

“Autonomous space” mobility travel tourism


OK, nothing. Looks promising, but “autonomous travel”, really? What does that even contribute to the world? Isn’t it just co-opting the concepts and theory of autonomy for some managerial tourism type to rip off and make mega-bucks? I need to be careful to protect the paper from this.

But either way, I still need empirical material to back it up. Grounded theory and all that. OK, check over my coding: “geopolitics”, “mobility”, “globalisation”, “state”. Damn it, I’ve only compiled “state”.

**Musical interlude while I spend an entire day compiling, cross-checking, thinking about the empirical material**

Geopolitics looks meaty – lots to do with travel routes and modes (e.g. cycling, couchsurfing, hitching) blocked, shifting, changing qualitatively, speeding up and slowing down, fragmenting and converging according to visa and border regulations and inter-state conflicts. OK, I like where this is going; I think I can work with this. I’ll cross-reference with globalisation and mobility (and possibly economy) and there could be some good intersections of capital and state to eek out somehow and squeeze in an (indirect) critique of the complicit tourism industry on the side.

Still stuck on the literature and theory. Didn’t Lucy Finchett-Maddock write something about entropy? Check paper. Still none the wiser about what entropy actually is. Something to do with energy and complex systems theory. Good read nonetheless – if only I’d remembered this for the VR and Formas funding applications I put in last week. Never mind. I really should make contact with her – we have some good crossovers – but how to approach someone you’ve never met? I’m quite socially awkward at the best of times. Perhaps I could ask for a paper of hers, pretending I can’t get it at my library. Yes, that could be a good way of introducing myself and my research interests. But then again, does it sound too… DAMN IT STOP PROCRASTINATING.

The irony, of course, is that I check Facebook about ten times a day. Surely that kind of procrastination is even less productive. I kid myself that Facebook and Twitter are important networking tools but they’re not really. I just end up watching MMA videos or commenting on funny pictures of cats. Perhaps there is some value in it though, as the… GET ON WITH IT.

Back to the paper. Amend the bullet point skeleton and I can see it coming together. Some progress is being made. Now to quickly check my emails / Facebook / Twitter just one more time…

[To be continued]

How (not) to write a paper: Part I

Over the coming few weeks I’m going to be covering the progress of writing an academic paper, from start to finish, including all the gory bits. We see academic papers only when they are finished, neat, unitary. We don’t see the mess, the revisions, the pain and the corner-cutting that goes into their production.

Euan Craig, a potter originally from Australia who’s lived in Japan for much of his life, was once asked how long it takes to make a pot. He replied “about 30 seconds to throw the pot, and 20 years to learn how.”

So the only thing that you won’t see in this process is the long, non-linear, tangled threads of intellectual development and change over the course of my entire life that have, in one way or another, influenced the production of this paper. However, what you will see is a genuine, warts-and-all impression of what really happened.

I will also add another caveat: not all papers work like this. Each has its own life, some ebbing and flowing gently over years, others crammed into the space of a few weeks (like this one), others still never quite ever being finished and sitting, waiting, hoping to be ‘complete’ one day under piles of more pressing labour to be completed. Academics reading this may deeply identify with this process, but other academics may not understand at all. We shall see…

Finally finished the commentary for Dialogues in Human Geography. Now to the next project, after a little break. A bit of reading around the subject of encounter and difference. I think I know where I’m going with this. Good, good. I can see where this paper is going.

Oh, wait, wasn’t there another submission deadline coming soon? The one I presented in Paris? Shit – quick check of old emails. SHIT. Deadline is 30th April??! That’s three weeks. Oh God oh God oh God. My brain is now full of encounter and this is about territory. What the hell is territory anyway?  A raft of concepts and definitions comes flooding back: territory-as-effect (Painter), calculable space (Elden), rebuttal of Elden (Antonsich), deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation (Paasi, Newman, and the border studies types), multiple non-linear territorialisations (can’t remember who said this off the top of my head), etc etc ad infinitum. Didn’t Sam H write something about territory too?

Quick check of my 2012 territory paper. This is useless, but maybe I can lift some of the lit review out and re-work it for this topic. Not sure if I can get away with that.

Check back over the abstract. Completely impenetrable. What did I even mean?

Check back over the presentation notes. What a load of crap. How did I ever become an academic with such half-baked ideas?

OK, breathe. Let’s do a little mind-map. What are the issues? I always see people draw these wonderfully chaotic and creative mind-maps – maybe I’ll try that and hope that some inspiration comes:












Right, well that wasn’t much use.

I wonder if I could just duck out and hope the guest editors won’t mind. I’m really good at letting people down gently. But I respect them and want to support their project. I hung out with them in Paris and they were really welcoming to me, despite being this dumb Englishman who can only muster shaky A-Level French. No, I owe it to them, plus it gives me a deadline – I need deadlines to get things finished. Otherwise, I just faff around and get frustrated.

So, if a mind-map won’t work, maybe let’s get the logic straight and fit the structure into that as I go. OK, back to good old bullet point lists. Let’s do this.

bulletpoint screenshot








Cool, we’re getting somewhere now. But – ‘labour’ – how does that relate to territory? I don’t know if I have enough empirical material. And I’ll need to theorise it very carefully. OK, sideline that – I can always splice it in later if I have time and space.

Oh, space, shit, forgot about that – what’s the word limit? 60,000 characters – what the hell is that in words? OK, looks like it’s about 10,000 words. OK, that’s a lot of space to fill, but doable. At least I won’t have to edit it heavily to cut it down to the word length before going to review.

But I still need a conceptual ‘hook’. It needs to be somehow “innovative” but I literally have no theoretical innovations to offer. Quick scan through old papers and notes. Still no joy. Maybe if I just start writing, something exciting will magically emerge from the writing process? Wishful thinking.

OK, breathe. You can do this.

[To be continued]