One of my goals for 2018 was to write more, with the larger goal of getting some of my work published. I pitched a bunch of pieces, primarily on my experiences with graduate school, as well as some aspects of my research on the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages.
The whole pitching process was its own learning experience. In some cases, my proposals were rejected by email, sometimes relatively quickly, in other cases, months later. But in the majority of my submissions, I never heard back: those pitches disappeared into the internet void. Both forms of rejection were challenging, and brought up memories of when I first applied for jobs while I was finishing up my doctorate. In the end, I applied to 37 jobs before I got my first job. Among those jobs, only a few included a follow-up interview, and while about half of them sent rejection notices, many of those applications also just disappeared and went unacknowledged. Not fun.
But, a few of my submissions were happily accepted. Particularly on the heels of rejection notices, learning that my work would be published gave me both a sense of relief and accomplishment. Below are links to what I wrote that got published in 2018:
Reflections on Graduate School
Inside Higher Ed: What I Wish I Knew Before Starting Grad School
PhD Talk: My Dissertation Defense
PhD Life: Operation Endgame
On the Virgin Mary:
The Public Medievalist: Silencing Women’s Voices – Nevertheless, She Persisted
America Magazine: A Pregnant Pause: Mary and the Annunciation
Just Love Radio: Remembering the Significance of Mary on the Immaculate Conception Feast Day (My interview starts about 42:00)
Thinking ahead to 2019, there are a few pieces I already have in mind that I’d like to write. I’m starting to learn how to turn some of the religious history writing I did in grad school towards more broader pieces that would appeal to a larger audience. I’m also hoping that now that I have a few published pieces, I’m less of an unknown entity.
The biggest goal for 2019 is to self-publish my memoir about graduate school. In 2018, I managed to write a full first draft, and given that I initially had a goal of writing a chapter a month (it’s 12 chapters), I feel pretty good that I also was able to do some initial editing on my own.
The most generous gift I’ve ever received from my brother was that he offered to read and comment on my draft. He’s a television editor and knows how to tell a good story (and what details are extraneous or not interesting). He read the draft twice and at Thanksgiving, gave me a ton of helpful feedback and comments that I’m still tackling. His advice was so insightful, and though it’s going to take a while to make the necessary adjustments, I know it’s going to make the book much better.
As 2018 comes to an end, I’m not as close to finishing the book as I had anticipated. Part of me is frustrated with myself for not being more efficient. The other part of me knows that this is solely a side project, and that the time I have to devote to it is somewhat limited, especially with a new and highly rewarding job.
I recently re-watched Julie and Julia, one of my favorite movies. When I first saw it, I really identified with Julia Powell, the modern-day blogger and foodie. I was just getting into my first blog, Medievalist Running in Circles. I secretly hoped I’d find similar success as Julie Powell did as she cooked and blogged her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But now, my favorite parts of the movie are of Julia and Paul Child’s life in Paris. While all of the cooking scenes are fantastic, what stood out to me as I rewatched it this time is how many roadblocks Julia hit as she tried to get her first cookbook off the ground. Time and time again, she faced flat-out rejection or demands for massive revisions.
When she was told “no,” Julia gave herself time to grieve, usually in part by talking to her husband. Paul patiently listened, then encouraged her to keep going. After this period of dejection, she’d return to the project, which culminates in an offer from Knopf, who publishes her book. In the final scene, she receives a copy of her first published book, and I think the joy that she exudes comes from the relief of finally finishing the project.
I’m in the middle of my own long-term project with this book, and I remember when I was working on my dissertation with no clear end in sight. Getting up day after day, trying to add a few drops into the bucket of my dissertation, often felt futile. When you’re consistently adding small increments, it’s hard to stand back and see real progress.
But as the year comes to a close, I’m holding on to the possibility of that final moment of seeing this project come to fruition. That’s what I’m thinking of when I feel my motivation lag, and more often than not, that’s what get me back to the computer.
Writing is an exercise in self-motivation, and like a muscle, it needs to be used regularly to stay toned. I’m pleased with the progress I made in 2018, and am excited about what’s to come in 2019!