Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May 5, 2015: NeMLA 2015 Recaps: Roundtable on Writing Prolifically

[This past weekend, the Northeast MLA held its annual spring conference in Toronto. I was there in my official capacity as the organization’s Vice President, as well as a presenter and audience member, and wanted to follow up on a handful of the many interesting things that took place. Leading up to a weekend post on how you can help me plan next year’s conference in Hartford!]
Three great pieces of advice from the roundtable “Strategies for Becoming a Prolific Writer,” at which I presented alongside Anna Strowe, Felipe Ruan, and Simona Wright:
1)      Interdisciplinarity: It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I made the case for thinking of and developing our work in interdisciplinary ways, but others on the panel (and in the audience) advanced elements of the same idea. For one thing, such thinking allows us to imagine connections, audiences, and avenues for our work that would be closed off if we defined ourselves in overly narrow or specialized ways. And for another, as I argued at the roundtable in response to a question about job market dangers of interdisciplinarity, increasingly institutions need faculty who can teach multiple things, wear multiple hats, extend their work in a variety of directions. All reasons to practice interdisciplinarity, I’d say!
2)      Rhizomatic Thinking: Simona specifically made the case for thinking of our scholarly work and identity in a rhizomatic way, with roots and branches that extend in multiple directions. This is partly another way of putting the interdisciplinary emphasis, but it would be possible and important to aim for rhizomatic thinking even within one discipline (or even a more specialized focus within one, on for example one specific author). Audience member Mark Fulk made a similar point, about the way that unexpected connections between our focus at any given moment and other ideas/subjects often prompts our writing and projects. And we can’t see such connections, much less pursue them, if we aren’t open to the rhizomatic approach Simona emphasized.
3)      Pleasure: All of the presenters made the case, in one way or another, for writing about what interests us, what we’re passionate about, what gives us pleasure. This might seem to be a given, but I don’t believe it is—too often, academic or scholarly writing reads and feels like a chore, to the author as well as the reader. The dissertation process itself seems geared in many ways to producing precisely such writing. Perhaps we can’t change the dissertation process (although we can and should consider it), but we can certainly redefine academic writing more broadly as something that should be interesting and pleasurable, to the author and then (and thus) to its readers.
All things I’ll bring with me into my ongoing and future writing for sure! Next recap tomorrow,

PS. Were you at NeMLA 2015? I’d love to hear your follow ups as well—or your thoughts on this post even if you weren’t there!

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