Academic Writers Studio logo with lotus and ink pen

Who are the scholars? part 2: confident writers.

This is part 2 of a blog entry on who our Studio Scholars tend to be. Part 1 is here. Here’s the preamble, in case you don’t want to read the other one:

I have a confession: I was wrong about who our typical Studio Scholar would be. When we launched Academic Writers Studio and the Studio Scholars program, we assumed that our core audience would be (1) junior faculty members working toward tenure—because, you know, that’s where the most serious pressure point is—and (2) people who struggle with confidence as writers. We didn’t think everyone would have those characteristics, just that many would.

It turns out that many people we interact with on social media have the same misapprehension that we had re: who Studio Scholars would likely be, so I want to share a few observations and set the record straight.

Studio Scholars are mostly confident and very skilled writers.

We often hear people say that they expect Studio Scholars to be people who “need help with their writing”; as one Facebook commenter put it, he imagined that the Studio primarily provided emotional support to “new or struggling academic writers.”

Technically speaking, it might be true that we’re mostly providing emotional support to struggling academic writers, but probably not in the way he was thinking.

The struggling part is easier to acknowledge. On some level, if everything’s going great, a scholar doesn’t need us, so obviously people who choose to join us want to make at least some aspect of scholarly productivity less of a struggle. But the nature of that struggle isn’t what you’d expect. We tend to think of a struggling writer as someone who feels like they’re not that good at writing and has difficulty articulating what they want to say, perhaps on the level of writing mechanics.

But here are some examples of struggle we see at the Studio:

  • wondering “am I going off on a tangent here?” when you’ve been doing all your usual teaching and administrative work, plus chairing 2 search committees, and you sit down to write for the first time in 2 weeks with a massive case of decision fatigue, and you think what you’re saying is totally interesting and relevant but you’re not quite sure and worry that you might be wasting time you don’t have, so you want someone to quickly bounce your thoughts off of.
  • needing to figure out how to respond to a set of reader’s reports on your most important project, reports that are contradictory and/or difficult to translate into actionable suggestions.
  • needing to write while on medical leave and wanting to set priorities so that you can maximize your progress and your health.
  • needing to assess how to proceed when you’ve just gotten an email asking about the status of an article you forgot you promised to do: do you now find a way to just somehow fit “write article this month” into your already full schedule? Or do you need to let it go—the commitment and the guilt?

Those examples also point us toward the other idea in that phrase that I quoted above by illuminating ways in which what we do can, at least sometimes and at least partially, be characterized as emotional support. There’s ultimately a fine line between emotional and strategic support. The former is more foundational to productivity and the latter more about problem-solving.

But when a scholar messages, for example, because someone just asked her to write a chapter for an edited volume, and we talk about how that fits in and whether she should try to do it given her existing work plan for this term, we are offering her (and hopefully delivering) strategic support—and also two different levels of emotional support. One is the immediate relief and reassurance at solving that particular problem. The other is the longer-term stress relief and reassurance, that not only are we helping her think through the decision, but we’ll also be there the next time she could use some backup (and, if she does decide to do that chapter, we’ll help her get it written.)

I’m not positive that that’s how the scholars would describe the primary emotional support we provide, but I know that the situations described above are a pretty good sampling of the context in which it occurs. We do provide a lot of writing guidance at all levels, from picking away at one sentence in an important letter to brainstorming about rearranging book chapters, but most of our actual interactions are around what might be called “meta-writing” scenarios.

I mentioned in part 1 that Studio Scholars being mostly associate professors and mostly confident and skilled writers benefits the more junior members and those who are more nervous about writing, so I want to close by coming back to that idea.

Associate professors (and full professors, too!) have a lot of experience and wisdom, and they’re very generous about sharing it with junior faculty. (I think everyone already knows this.) In fact, one of my major worries when I started this program expecting the majority of Studio Scholars to be junior faculty was that in community interactions, the many junior faculty would seek advice, the few senior faculty would feel like they needed to spend time answering, and the senior faculty would feel like they had taken on yet another mentoring role, and thus even more taxed. But with such a large group, the expertise demands are widely distributed. I’m confident, in fact, that none of them actually experienced advice-seeking as “demands.” But a whole lot of excellent advice has been given.

(Another bonus: because there are so many senior faculty, there is a lot more lateral advice-giving, so the general vibe is that everyone is in a position to give or receive advice. That benefits everyone.)

The same holds true about scholars who are confident vs. nervous about writing: everyone’s nervous about something about writing, or needs advice about one writing or publishing thing or another. So there’s lots of advice to be asked for and given.

But I think one of the main benefits nervous writers experience is just being able to watch more experienced/confident writers showing up, doing their stuff, or not doing their stuff and feeling bad about it, or … well, all the same things that they do. It’s incredibly inspiring. I think that for people who are nervous about writing, it can be difficult to separate out being skilled with the mechanics of writing vs. struggling with the practice of writing—and that conglomeration of the two can grow exponentially and become a whole separate monster. So in addition to being incredibly inspiring, seeing people talk about their super quotidian efforts to write can be incredibly grounding.

As I write this, I’m in the process of packing up AWS’s first year of running the program and revving up for year 2, so thinking back on examples of what has happened is extra loaded with feels and a bit nostalgic. Fortunately a lot of the 2018-2019 group is coming back for more. Because behind the two characteristics I’ve been talking about, the ones that keep coming into my mind include traits I’ve mentioned here but subordinated to making other points—like that they’re generous and hardworking and hold up their communities—and a bunch that I haven’t mentioned, like that they’re brilliant and hilarious and an enormous pleasure to interact with, like all the time. I have no idea how they do it.