One of my academic FB friends shared a blog post she’d published with the caveat that these were thoughts she hadn’t quite straightened out yet. One of her other friends said this:
I’m grateful this piece is not neat – it’s just staring at me as a reminder for me to write, regardless of whether I feel like what I’m writing is a coherent whole or not.
Because this piece obviously ISN’T a coherent whole, and yet it’s still there asking me IMPORTANT questions about what it means … [stuff about specific topic]
And I have takes on many of these questions myself, and yet I’m super-nervous about sharing them because they’re NOT fully-formed thoughts, and they only relate to my tiny little [specific] corner of the universe.
Chuck Pearson, on FB, shared with permission
Every single academic writer I know (and possibly every writer) has felt like this. Many times. It might even be the default setting.
Figure out what you might have to say by writing. You can decide what to do with that writing later.
Write out your important questions.
Write your out thoughts even though they are not fully formed.
Write your take(s) on these questions.
Make diagrams, or pictures, or whatever it takes to get the ideas out of your head so you can start to form them into something coherent.
Publishing is a separate issue
Publishing is just sharing. There are many ways to do that. Here are some questions to ask yourself as your thoughts start to cohere into something you could share.
Who do you want to share with?
What do you want to (hope will?) happen as a result of having shared your (incoherent) thoughts, or your take on the important questions you are writing about?
What mode of sharing is most appropriate to the state of your thoughts?
- an email/shared document to a select group of friends/colleagues
- a blog post
- a paper for a brown bag seminar
- a talk for a speaker series in your institution or someone else’s
- a conference paper for a small focused conference
- a conference paper for a bigger conference
- an article for a scholarly journal
- a shorter piece for a section of a scholarly journal (if that exists in your field)
- an article for a specialist publication (newsletter, magazine, etc)
- an article for a general interest publication (newspaper, general magazine, etc.)
Sharing is what makes the coherent whole
Even when your thoughts are more coherent, they will never be whole. They will be a contribution to a conversation.
You don’t need to have all the answers. You don’t even need to have any answers if you have some more interesting ways to pose the questions.
Writing and publishing is a way of participating in a conversation that works towards answers. It may do so in very slow asynchronous ways, with lots of formal rules for entry into the conversation. The slowness and formality may obscure the fact that it is a conversation.
Whatever you do, don’t wait until you have all the answers to participate.