Academic writing is torturous. I love most parts of my job, but publishing journal articles is not one of my favourite things. I often say I hate writing. But that’s not completely true. I don’t hate writing; I actually quite enjoy it. What I really dislike is the process of academic writing. It is built on criticism and critique and often it is not very constructive. My most successful papers have been the ones that I have written as first author and then my co-author has managed the revision process. Receiving reviewers’ comments is something I find particularly painful. I often put so much energy and effort into a paper and then submit it hoping it will be perfect. Like many academics I have more than slight perfectionist tendencies. I hope beyond all hope that the comments will come back, the paper will be perfect, and the reviewers will accept it with minor revisions. I have heard of this happening in a far off mystery world of sunshine and lollipops but so far I’ve not experienced it myself.
Once the reviewers’ comments come back the hardest part starts. Just when I think I’m done with a paper I have to delve back in and start again. I really hate the revision process. I struggle with not knowing what the reviewer wants and trying to bend and squeeze what I’ve done with what I think will satisfy the endless list of demands from a nameless, faceless person at the end of an email. In fact this blog post is a form of procrastination… I should be finishing a paper revision. It was due Friday before last and it’s still not finished. I have been burying my head in the sand hoping it will magically finish itself. Unfortunately I don’t think it will and it might be a very long evening to get it done.
I’ve had some bad publishing experiences in the past that have affected my confidence in responding to revisions. One of my first publishing experiences was during my PhD. During this particular writing experience my co-author ripped my writing to shreds and changed every sentence I’d written. The paper was eventually published as a book chapter but the process destroyed my confidence and my sense of collegiality in writing.
Another experience that stays with me is a very long revision process that ultimately led to failure. After finishing my PhD I submitted one of my studies to a very high-ranking journal. I received a revise and resubmit, which my PhD supervisor said I should have celebrated. After spending the next year collecting additional data at the request of the reviewers, I hopefully resubmitted. The paper was flat out rejected. This process eroded my confidence even further and I have never had the gumption to submit the work elsewhere. It remains a one of those papers that sits in the “dead end folder” and I think it might just stay that way.
Maybe I don’t have enough resilience to be an excellent academic. Possibly I’m too sensitive to the critical process that is essential to the academic process. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I’ve discovered more and more that other people feel the same. So now I’m working on a new idea, a way to support each other and share in the process so as to be constructive more than critical. I’ve just put in a proposal for a writing retreat with my institute. I am still not sure I will enjoy the process any more, but perhaps by sharing the pain, torture, and misery with others the paper writing process won’t feel quite as painful or torturous or miserable… I can only hope!