January 24, 2016

Scholars Talk Writing

In this continuing series, Rachel Toor interviews scholars about their writing process and influences. Recent columns have featured interviews with Anthony Grafton, Sam Wineburg, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and Camille Paglia.

“Most scientists I know are wonderful storytellers, but they are taught from early in their careers to edit out the story, to redact the personal.”

Frustration is “not an impediment to successful writing,” but “a necessary part of the process.”

“Journal reviewers can seem like angry trolls, blocking the bridge to publication.”

"I look at the words on the page as if I were arranging flowers in a vase."

"In academic writing you’re given a lot of latitude to be boring."

“It’s an incredibly arrogant act to publish anything.”

"Good prose requires dedication to the craft of writing, and our profession simply doesn’t reward it."

"You have to write a lot to get better at writing," so "don’t stop."

"I still have the standard anxiety of a struggling musician: Regardless of the gig, I want to be invited back."

"I can’t tell whether any improvement is because I became a woman, or because I finally grew up."

To be called a "popularizer" is the kiss of death for an academic only if the actual writing is sloppy and sensationalized.

"Ideally you want to be an id on the first draft and a superego on the second."

"Good Lord, I certainly learned nothing about writing from grad school!"

Why a philosopher applies Kantian ethics to writing.

How a Stanford professor, known for his work on "historical thinking," learned to trust his own voice.

A Princeton historian is a teacher, scholar, and collaborator — but not, he says, a writer.