Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Writing :: "I think you should explore the kinky market"

Spinuzzi, C. (2017, in press). "'I Think You Should Explore the Kinky Market': How Entrepreneurs Develop Value Propositions as Emergent Objects of Activity Networks." Mind, Culture and Activity

The link above goes to my reprint. I should have about 25 reprints left, so if you are one of the first 25 to click on it, you'll get a free copy courtesy Taylor & Francis. Otherwise you'll see the abstract, and you'll be able to either purchase it, find it in your library, or order it through interlibrary loan.

In my series on writing, I've highlighted the process of putting together these publications rather than their content. I'll continue that tradition here. Although you should (of course!) read and cite the article, here I'll focus on the question of how I put it together.

The empirical project. Longtime readers will recognize the empirical project as one that I've been addressing for a while: How innovators learn to be entrepreneurs. That project led to several publications, culminating in a recent Written Communication article, in which I use actor-network theory's concept of interessement to discuss how innovators attempted to maintain both strategic and tactical coherence in their different materials related to the pitch.

Although I think the WC piece does a good job of overviewing the pitch's development, the project also nicely illustrates challenges that activity theory faces as it attempts to deal with rhetoric. That led me to apply some work I've done elsewhere.

The theoretical project. At CCCC 2016, I delivered a short presentation titled "What's Wrong with CHAT?" (i.e., cultural-historical activity theory). That presentation was updated and workshopped in August for the Dartmouth Conference, and a version is slated as a book chapter. There, I point out four issues in applying CHAT to writing studies; three of these issues are relevant to CHAT more generally.

The current project. So, by September, I had both a theoretical case for describing CHAT limitations and an empirical case for illustrating them. With this base, the paper came together quickly. I knocked together a first draft by late October, sent it in to MCA by early November, and received comments by mid-January.

The reviewer comments were generally positive, but pointed out some issues to be resolved as well as some claims and tone issues that would not have been received well by MCA readers. Since the claims weren't central to my argument, I had no problem backing off of them (leave that battle for another day), and I was glad to fix the tone issues. I sent the revision back in 12 days and received an acceptance within two weeks-- which I think might be a record for me.

Lessons. Honestly, this story illustrates how years of work can result in what seem to be rapid publications. As noted above, it took about 3.5 months from beginning the article to getting it accepted, which seems incredibly short. But that article resulted from years of empirical and theoretical work, the results of which provided plenty of resources for putting together publications.

Contrast that with the article I'm currently writing, which is dragging on and on. The reason is that although I have a broad argument, I'm having to do a lot of historical research to fill in--and test--the argument. Whereas I could work on the "Kinky Market" paper in odd moments, this one takes hours of uninterrupted work. And that work is closer to what newer scholars must do: dissertation students, assistant professors. It takes time to build up resources.

And that's where I want to leave this. If you're a grad student or assistant professor, you may be wondering: When will it get easier to write articles? Why do they take so long for me to write? At the beginning of a project -- and therefore at the beginning of a career, when you only have one or two projects on which to draw -- you develop resources and write articles concurrently. Later in the project, the resources are there and the articles can proceed more rapidly. My best suggestion is to map out the next 3-5 years, anticipate which resources you'll develop, then identify articles that you can build on top of them. The landscape will shift from year to year, but perhaps not as much as you might think.

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