New adventures: the ‘way of Wendy’

I am embarking on the ‘Way of Wendy’ (hashtagwayofwendy).

…But instead of beginning straight away, I am procrastinating by writing a blog post about my intentions to begin. Such is the way of things.

Wendy (Imma call her Wendy) has a term for this: writing dysfunction. It’s like erectile dysfunction except it’s unlimited by gender/sex and generously shared among most academics. Lovely.

Ahem. ANYWAY. To briefly explain for those who live outside the anxious world of academia – lucky you – the ‘way of Wendy’ refers to Professor Belcher’s much-vaunted (and deservedly so) approach to academic publishing. As you can tell by the picture, the aim is to help dysfunctional academic writers get their paper from draft to journal submission in 12 weeks. Wendy Belcher is a Professor of African Literature at Princeton University, but is known more widely because of her workbook “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks“. People swear by it. It’s basically an ECR* bible.

*early career researcher

I had put off getting my hands on this sacred work for a few years, partly because of the price (£80 or more, last time I checked) and partly because I had a rather elevated opinion of my own writing abilities. “I can write,” thought Caroline, “I’ll be fine without it.”

NOT SO! As I have discovered, being able to turn a phrase is not really even part of the general requirements for academic writing. It’s considered merely an added bonus. Instead, you need to be able to do stuff like construct an argument, among various other arcane skills.

For roughly 18 months post-viva voce I wrote nothing. This was not concerning for me, as similarly to most post-doctoral researchers after spending 5 years on one project I wanted to Not Look At It for a while… and besides, I had my hands full with a post-doctoral research job. The problem came during lockdown, essentially. I had all this time yet found myself struggling to use it productively. I’d write half a paper one day, then lose interest and later decide it was entirely unsuitable. I’d passed my viva with no corrections* yet turning thesis chapters into papers seemed impossible.

*this is rare in my field. I’m thpethial.

Enter Prof Belcher and her writing bible: it does not disappoint! Just reading the opening sections made me feel motivated and understand why I had been struggling. It’s such a practical approach and I can see why it’s so popular. I’m hopeful that I can get a head start as I have already made the requisite decisions for weeks 1 & 2 (choose which piece of writing to work up for submission, choose which journal you’ll aim for). However, I am wary of setting myself up for failure by setting impossible deadlines. I suppose the Way of Wendy has not yet worked its magic in totality.

One small caveat: In the (very helpful) section discussing suitable outlets for publication, Prof Belcher makes the eminently sensible – yet uncomfortable – claim that publishing in USA-based journals is more useful in terms of embellishing one’s CV. This is a true reflection of a variety of factors, but it is ultimately a piece of advice I intend to ignore. I am based in the UK and have discovered in my academic reading a vast gulf between the scholarship of North America in comparison to the UK and European region. This is, of course, reflective of one’s field of study – but I noticed that the range of preferred theoretical approaches is not directly analogous and also that in some specific areas the ideas under discussion would be considered ‘old hat’ in UK and EU journals. Simply put, the journals I’ll be aiming for may not be among the top international echelons, but they’ll be appropriate for my field and the kinds of things I want to say. Which is, of course, exactly in line with Wendy’s guidance in this regard: the most common reason for paper rejection is that it’s unsuitable for the journal, rather than due to any intrinsic aspect of the paper.

For my part, I’m aiming for Environmental Sociology. This is because I recently read a paper from this journal which directly spoke to an aspect of my own research and which sparked THOUGHTS, which was a most enjoyable sensation.

If anyone wishes to share their experiences of the way of Wendy with me please leave a comment 😊

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