From the author of Stylish Academic Writing comes an essential new guide for writers aspiring to become more productive and take greater pleasure in their craft. Helen Sword interviewed one hundred academics worldwide about their writing background and practices. Relatively few were trained as writers, she found, and yet all have developed strategies to thrive in their publish-or-perish environment.
So how do these successful academics write, and where do they find the “air and light and time and space,” in the words of poet Charles Bukowski, to get their writing done? What are their formative experiences, their daily routines, their habits of mind? How do they summon up the courage to take intellectual risks and the resilience to deal with rejection?
Sword identifies four cornerstones that anchor any successful writing practice: Behavioral habits of discipline and persistence; Artisanal habits of craftsmanship and care; Social habits of collegiality and collaboration; and Emotional habits of positivity and pleasure. Building on this “BASE,” she illuminates the emotional complexity of the writing process and exposes the lack of writing support typically available to early-career academics. She also lays to rest the myth that academics must produce safe, conventional prose or risk professional failure. The successful writers profiled here tell stories of intellectual passions indulged, disciplinary conventions subverted, and risk-taking rewarded. Grounded in empirical research and focused on sustainable change, Air & Light & Time & Space offers a customizable blueprint for refreshing personal habits and creating a collegial environment where all writers can flourish.
Helen Sword delightfully shows that, contrary to lazy opinion, academics do not have to write in soggy, wooden, leaden, stuffy, turgid, or bloated prose. She makes the case with insightful analyses and lighthearted interviews, but her own prose is as good an illustration as any.
Like Tolstoy’s families, happy writers are alike (and also, perhaps, nonexistent); struggling writers, however, suffer in their own ways. Helen Sword shows the diversity of productive academics’ writing practices and serves up a range of useful strategies to help those who find writing painful succeed in getting words on the page and even—believe it or not—bring some pleasure to the process.
Helen Sword does it again. In an age of academic doom, she inspires. Here she manages to be both data-driven and delightful: you have to read to see how she combines so much evidence and so much pleasure. She makes you want to consume creative academic writing—not just hers—and to try to produce nothing less.
Part how-to-write manual and part rigorous study. Filled with tidbits, quotes, profiles, and anecdotes, it shines light on academic writing from a writer’s perspective, revealing the idiosyncrasies, rituals, and practices that make writers out of scholars.
[Sword’s] approach is a refreshing break from the conventions of a genre that offers neat, one-size-fits-all solutions to writers’ struggles…The real triumph of Sword’s book stems from the extensive interviews she’s conducted with 100 prominent academic writers and editors.
I strongly recommend Air & Light & Time & Space for anyone who would like to experiment with, and think more deeply about, their writing practices. It is a book which has been crafted with great elegance.
Sword’s new book shows that there are as many ways to be productive as there are writers.
- 280 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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