Thursday, May 21, 2009

Seeking scholarly LTR. Hand-holding a must.

Over the past couple of years I've talked to at least a dozen friends about exchanging work. Sometimes this happens over margaritas, as one of us is moaning about a project that seems to be going nowhere and the other replies, "well hey: I'm always happy to read for you." Other times (though likely still over drinks) we've mutually if vaguely declared that we really ought to form a support group to keep ourselves on task and read through each other's stuff from time to time.

And sometimes it's even happened: a couple of friends have stepped in at key moments to read the draft of one or another of my articles, and I've read a draft or two in return. I've also read a series of short introductions for a colleague's critical edition.

But that's been it. I think we're all sincere in our professed desire to help each other out--I know I'd read a draft for any of my friends at any time, and I'm not overly shy about asking for help myself, especially when I'm on a deadline or have gotten really stuck. But I think I've outgrown the scholarly booty call. I'd like a committed, long-term (though not necessarily exclusive!) relationship.

Part of the problem is mutuality. I do have a couple of mentor-type people who have volunteered to look over my manuscript "anytime," but apart from how terrifying those offers are (and although I will pursue them--I may be terrified, but I'm not stupid), those relationships would be unidirectional; I don't have much to offer in return, at least at this stage in my career. And even among friends, it's hard to know whether one is imposing too much, or if the vision of the relationship that one of us has is the same held by the other: would we be in touch weekly? monthly? less frequently? Would one of us need more hand-holding than the other? And what if we just, you know: had different values?

I'm hopeful that a supportive scholarly relationship or two will coalesce in the future, as it's hard for me to imagine being either particularly happy or a particularly good thinker working in isolation. Plenty of solitary workers are--both happy and damn fine scholars--but the older I get the more inefficient it feels to work alone and venture my ideas into public only in conference papers or article submissions.

It's funny: I used to be anxious about letting anyone see anything I was working on before it was polished to a high gloss--even if I knew I'd still be doing tons of revision afterwards, I couldn't bear the idea of showing my imperfect or unfinished thoughts to the world. But somehow, in the past few years, that fear has dissipated. I have a job. I've published articles I'm pleased with. I'm pretty sure my friends will not think I'm an idiot if they encounter a weak argument or an awkward paragraph (or ten).

More importantly, there's a lot of shit I don't know--stuff I haven't read, ways I don't think, ideas I haven't encountered. Given an infinitude of time, might I learn all those things on my own? Maybe. But wouldn't it be more efficient and more pleasurable to learn them from others--and help them learn stuff in return?

So yeah. That's what I'm looking for. You can keep your candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach. I want something intimately. . . textual.


Renaissance Girl said...

Flavia, do you want to have text with me? (Captcha: flophott. And I think you know what I mean by that.)

Bardiac said...

This sounds like a great idea to me, also. It seems especially good for those of us at smaller schools, where there aren't six early modern folks hanging around.

What Now? said...

Amen! I had such good experiences trading drafts regularly with a select group in and right after grad school, but since then I've never managed to pull it off other than the occasional ad hoc favor. I am in a small writing group now at FGS and am trying to make that work (and my colleagues were incredibly helpful on one article this fall), but it's still not exactly what I've hoped for.

life_of_a_fool said...

I have one of these, and it's awesome. It's somewhat mutual, except I have one of him and he has, like, a dozen of me. He "set me up" with someone else, which is great, except that I feared I was being pawned off for being too demanding. I have a third, but it's entirely non-reciprocal.

It's funny how anxiety-producing and difficult this can be (though I don't know why that would be surprising, given there's nothing about the publication process that isn't anxiety-producing). But then, it really is difficult to find someone who gives good criticism. I will be most receptive from someone I trust likes me and thinks highly of my work, but will be brutally honest (or, maybe very honest, without being overly brutal) and will have the generally same ideas of what a good final product looks like. That combo is rare and hard to find.

medieval woman said...

Writing guru here is a great boon, I'll be honest - have you considered asking our newly-hired, mutual friend J here if s/he'd like to exchange stuff? Maybe in a formal, committed way?

I loved this post, btw!

Sisyphus said...

Ahh, this is a lovely post.

And I wonder how much it's important that pairings like these have the same field and interests? I always had trouble helping my medievalist friend with her essays on anything but clarity.

gwoertendyke said...

i love the booty call! i would love to do this, for real (minus walks on the beach), and even think that if you have one in-field and one out-field, it works exceptionally well.

if you need/want and out-fielder, i'm your woman.

Unknown said...

Although I think our fields of work are just too disparate for me to be the type of partner you are seeking, I have also been thinking lately about my renewed faith in the editing process and subsequent lack of shyness in letting it all hang out when it comes to early drafts -- it's liberating to let go of that perfectionism, at least for me. Hallelujah!

If you would like a random editorial note, however, here's one for the blog: please cross "File Taxes" off your to-do list. I know it says "Winter To-Dos", but it makes me panic for you every time I see it. You can't get locked up for tax evasion and leave me with no companion for happy hour at Jimmy's Steer House.

Scott said...

I would be very interested in some kind of specialty-specific reading groups.

Flavia said...

Sis: yes, I think having someone in-field (at least as one of one's LTScholarlyRs) is really important. Out-fielders are important too, especially as readers, but what I'm envisioning is someone or someones with whom I could hash out our respective scholarly projects, in some level of detail, semi-regularly, and at all stages of the process--and I think the only person who wouldn't be bored to pieces by that (and the only person w/whom one could have a truly useful, mutual relationship) would be someone in-field.

MW: I'm SO envious of your work guru--I was thinking about your posts about said guru as I wrote! And as for J: maybe. Is she. . . on the market?

AW: I know. Can't you just see it?

*Ring ring!*


"Hey! It's me. What're you. . . uh, what're you up?"

"You know: just watching some t.v., sorting the mail. Quiet night."

"Gotcha. Well hey: if you're not doing anything later--and you wanted to--you could come over and maybe. . . look at my article draft?"

Thoroughly Educated said...

This is an excellent idea. I've just been to visit the location of my fall fellowship and the thing that's got me really jazzed, beyond the moderate urban fabulosity, is that there are at least three people there who are smack in my sub-sub-field and are also people I'd trust in a scholarly-relationship way. (Is is squicky if two of those people are, you know, married to one another?) Anyway, I'm very much hoping that one of those in-person scholarly relationships will turn into a LD LTR that I can carry on into the next phase - especially if the next phase involves being out of academe but still working on scholarly projects.

I'd thought for a long time that the closeness of mutual interests of the participants in such a LTR didn't really matter as much as the willingness of both parties to help with clarity and organization of prose, but I'm thinking now that you're right: what would be really great would be a relationship from which both people learn and grow in their field. How fabulous would it be if there could even be some organized division of labor in keeping up with the scholarly literature? I, for one, would like to find a LTR with someone whose German is much better than mine :-)

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Sorry, this is totally off-topic, but: does Alan Bradley know you? Or is the name of his heroine pure coincidence? Author interview here:

miltonista said...

Me me me

Flavia said...

Jenny: it's fixed! And I did in fact file my taxes on time, albeit on the very day they were due.

Eleanor: pure coincidence, unless he's a secret reader of my blog. Thanks for the link.

And finally, Miltonista: is that an offer? Because I will take you up on it.

miltonista said...

Yes yes yes