I have written previously about the difficulties that accompany the writing process. When I really got to thinking about how people cope with these challenges while also pursuing other ambitions – careers, raising a family, cooking dinner every night – I realized that for the most part, they don’t. A lot of us are not writing as much as we want to be. A lot of us are not writing at all. It is absolutely heartbreaking to think of the number of people who want to be authors or poets but never seem to be able to fit writing a book into their busy schedules.

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I’m not here to pass judgement, point fingers, or guilt-trip. What I would like to do is suggest some strategies for getting back on the writing train if it’s something you’ve been missing

Get the other parts of your life in order. We all know that some of the best writers also had challenging personal lives. It is possible to produce incredible work while struggling in other areas, but for many of us, if dinner’s not made and we had a rough day at work, we’re not going to be able to sit down and write at our best. Use writing as a motivator to get organized and start living the life you want.

Force yourself to be accountable. For many of us, we were most prolific in our writing while enrolled in school. Why? Because we had to be! Having to hand in assignments provides excellent motivation to get to work. If you are hoping to make writing a priority, consider creating a system that keeps you accountable for creating high-quality work. For some people, this may be as simple as setting deadlines. For others, this may mean enlisting a friend or family member to act as an enforcer, making sure you consistently produce work on time.

Structure your time. Waiting until you have enough time to write is sort of like waiting for that spider in the basement shower to knit you a bikini. Is it theoretically possible? Yes. But it’s just never going to happen. If you’re going to produce considerable work, you have to consciously set aside time dedicated to writing. If you think you will have trouble sticking to schedule you set yourself, consider taking a writing class or starting a writing group with a few friends.

Make concrete goals. Many of us “want to write more” but we actually have no idea what we would do if we did sit down to write. Setting concrete goals – such as “I will write a short story this week” – will not only give you something to work towards but shape your thinking so that you are on the lookout for good settings, characters, and plot ideas.

Don’t keep your writing to yourself. It can be hard to share, but can you imagine what our world would be like if J.K. Rowling never contacted a publisher? Sharing your work is necessary if you hope to be published, if you want feedback on your work, if you want to be held consistently accountable, and so on. Not to mention your writing might just change someone’s life.


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Rachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received a number of scholarships and awards, including the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

Academic writing is forever being accused of being impossible to understand for its heavy jargon and specialized knowledge. Critics claim that academics are hiding away knowledge in their ivory towers, far away from the needs of the rest of the world. Others say that academic writing is solipsistic, riddled with narcissisms and is, overall, self-fellatiating.

But are academics really writing for exclusive audiences that the peasants are not meant to be part of?

No.

Academic writing, like any writing genre, has its own style and tendencies that tend to get replicated across the genre because everyone who is writing academic work is also reading it. No, the “parade of big nouns and their noun-stuffed noun-phrases” is not purely to make popular audiences feel inadequate. It is not made to remind the masses that we are the guilds and they are not.

In fact, I have never met a single academic writer who has even thought to pull out a thesaurus in the hopes of “jazzing up their vocabulary”. Most of us just write with complex vocabularies….because we have complex vocabularies. We read obsessively. And like any skilled “trade” you start to pick up the language and style of those around you. We also tend to be working with terminologies that need to be excavated from their popular meanings. Words like “religion” or “common sense” are broken down and complicated by academics, not for the sake of making things difficult for everyone, but to understand exactly what we mean by them, and to reshape that meaning as well. It just doesn’t make sense that we would then use popular terminology popularly.

Academics “complicate” because the world is infinitely more complex than most people make it out to be. We cringe and even express outrage or protest at the simplification of historical narratives for nationalist purposes. We feel sick when people appropriate terminology for one religious group to stand in representation of all of them. We spend our lives analyzing and nuancing knowledge itself, tracing genealogies of how we came to know things because socio-cultural generalizations that are taken for granted usually hide critical histories in them – things that shape and inform our current realities…including how we deal with one another. Yes, even your academic-bashing-ways has a historical precedent. In this important venture, nothing ought to be taken for granted….especially not vocabulary.

People might argue that academics are not only writing for other academics so their work should be more accessible. And that is most definitely true. Not everything an academic writes will end up in an obscure history journal somewhere that people might never read. Academics can absolutely be public intellectuals, educators and activists but that does not mean they need to forego the processes by which we challenge dominant narratives or alter our writing style to make things more palatable for everyone. Context is everything.

These ideas do need to be made accessible, but they do not need to be eliminated in their academic form. Ultimately, the Judgmental Observer said it best:

this generalized dismissal of “academese,” of dense, often-jargony prose that is nuanced, reflexive and even self-effacing , is, I’m afraid, just another bullet in the arsenal for those who believe that higher education is populated with up-tight, boring, useless pedants who just talk and write out of some masturbatory infatuation with their own intelligence. The inherent distrust of scholarly language is, at its heart, a dismissal of academia itself.

I don’t mean to be a classic academic here and bring up the neo-liberal agenda, but it’s a serious concern for those of us that dedicate our lives to research and contributing to the discussion of ideas that form understandings and ideologies. The idea that our academic ideas have to not only “lead to jobs” and “mean something” to people who have nothing to do with academia, but to further add that we have to change our vocabulary and packaging to make it digestible by the same people who don’t invest the time and excruciating energy it takes in producing an original academic thought has, at its core, an infatuation with intellectual capitalism.

Academic writers shouldn’t have to sacrifice the extraordinary amount of time and energy they put into research for the sake of marketing and instant “understanding” – see: gratification.  And I know perfectly well that I say that as a business owner of a marketing company on that very company’s blog.

The work I do is nuanced and specific. It requires hours of reading and thinking before a single word is typed. This work is boring at times — at times even dreadful — but it’s necessary for quality scholarship and sound arguments. Because once you start to research an idea — and I mean really research, beyond the first page of Google search results — you find that the ideas you had, those wonderful, catchy epiphanies that might make for a great headline or tweet, are not nearly as sound as you assumed. And so you go back, armed with the new knowledge you just gleaned, and adjust your original claim. Then you think some more and revise. It is slow work, but its necessary work.

The problem then, with academic writing, is that its core — the creation of careful, accurate ideas about the world — are born of research and revision and, most important of all, time. Time is needed. But our world is increasingly regulated by the ethic of the instant. We are losing our patience. We need content that comes quickly and often, content that can be read during a short morning commute, content that can be tweeted and retweeted and Tumblred and bit-lyed. And that content is great. It’s filled with interesting and dynamic ideas. But this content cannot replace the deep structures of thought that come from research and revision and time.

I couldn’t care less about most science fiction, but do you see me calling for the end of the genre as a whole? Do you see me stereotyping about how science fiction writers are religious-wannabes tapping out crazy fantasy novels in their grandmothers’ basements? No, obviously I’m not doing that, not only because it’s not true (just as the stereotypes of stuffy old academics are also not true) but it also doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to the discussion.

People who criticize the very existence of academic writing are those who tell us they don’t get it. But since when does the fact that someone doesn’t understand something warrant its complete, wholesale dismissal?

Intellectual fascism isn’t fashionable; it isn’t intellectualism in itself.  When academics don’t understand something, we don’t push it away – we race towards it with eyes wide open. We research, we ask questions, we push the boundaries of our own thinking and those around us. We open up thought itself, we don’t shut it down.

If you actually want to learn about some of the critical intellectual work academics are doing, you are going to have to engage with the process and re-learn how to read academic writing, much in the same way you have to adapt to any new writing genre that is unfamiliar to you. Trust me, we would much rather have you part of the conversation than trying to shut it down.

Join us in extending heartfelt congratulations to our very own writer and researcher, Liz Hill, on a successful defense of her Master’s thesis today. Liz’s research was on Madness and Leprosy in the medieval period. In the first year of her Masters degree, Liz received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming).

The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that our very own, Nakita Valerio, has been selected as a recipient for the Frank W Peers Graduate Research Scholarship. The award is highly competitive (only one is awarded to history graduate students annually), based on excellent academic standing and research potential. The award comes with significant financial assistance which will be used to fund her studies in Edmonton and research abroad.

The tentative title of her thesis is: Remembering Al-Yehud Through the Shoah: Pedagogical Approaches to Teaching the Holocaust and Jewishness Among Contemporary Moroccan Muslims

A summary of her research is what follows:

The Holocnakita036aust is a provocative measure of the Muslim memory of Jews. Though it is considered the starting point in Critical Memory studies, there is yet to be much scholarship devoted to its memory in the Islamic world. An intimate history of relatively peaceful coexistence between Moroccan Jews and Muslims has been challenged in a comparatively short time by narratives of nationalism and diaspora, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, their economic-trade policy, the rhetoric regarding normalization of Israel, and educational protocols surrounding the constructed memory of Jews in Morocco.  My working research questions are as follows: How is the Holocaust remembered by self-identified Moroccan Muslims? How is this affected by education, politics and self-prescribed ideas about the “Islamic and Jewish religions”? How does this affect overall remembering of Jews in Morocco? These questions are situated in the context of Memory literature and are used to understand how societies reconcile multi-layered cognitive dissonance.