As a graduate student, my publication profile was reasonably good, but nothing spectacular – two peer-reviewed articles (one co-authored) in journals of varying quality. It was enough to make me competitive on the job market, but certainly didn’t put me into the rock star category. Now though, having somehow secured gainful employment in academia, I’m lucky enough to have gotten my monograph out with a decent press within three years of PhD graduation, have a contract for the second book, an article on the way with one of the top journals in my field and (apparently) am having my work translated into Portuguese.
The irony here is that I am now far, far busier than I was in the halcyon of graduate school. I love my job, but the day-to-day of academia seems to revolve around administration and teaching, in that order, with research and writing coming a distant third and fourth. And yet I am now far more productive than I was as a student. So how is that possible? I don’t have the luxury of days on end to think about writing now, and when I did have that luxury I spent most of my time doing what every PhD does, procrastinating until the last possible moment.
For me, there are probably two (maybe three) reasons I’m more productive now than I was a student. The first is that when you only have short periods of time available to you, you have to make those times count, and writing in short intensive bursts seems to suit me. Having a day or two over the Christmas break to write and think about my research now seems like a luxury or even a treat to me, so I actively enjoy the writing process now, whereas before I nearly had to be chained to my laptop to write.
The second is that it is possible to develop as a writer and a thinker – I had relatively good habits as a PhD student in the first place, trying to write every day (or more realistically at least every week) and those good habits, coupled with simply knowing more about my field and my writing process, have made it much easier for me to keep being a productive writer. One of the better habits I picked up was frequently asking others to read my work critically. I have (patient and generous) friends critique virtually everything I write, and I’ve tried not to be precious about showing them stuff that I’m not proud of. Swallowing my pride and sharing my work has made me a much stronger writer.
This habit relates to the last and by far the most important reason I’ve improved my productivity since finishing my PhD: I’ve learned what ‘good enough’ means. Having been through the peer-review process a few times, I’ve internalized what all PhD students are told but most don’t ever really accept - that you never ‘finish’ something, you just stop. Having stared at the page for so long, decided that I had written complete rubbish, but having had the cheek to submit my work anyway, it was a pleasant surprise to find that peer reviewers saw more merit in my work than I did. And once I had more confidence in my writing, I learned to recognize that it was often better just to stop, rather than endlessly revising something for diminishing returns. Learning when to stop revising and send my creation out into the world has been the single best habit I’ve developed as a writer. Which reminds me that I need to do just that with this blog post.