An Academic Voyage of Discovery: Seeing with New Eyes

Over the past week, I decided to take some advice. Ironically, it was advice on how to take, well, advice. (And, indeed, this blog post could be an example of giving advice about taking advice. So, as we in the business say, it’s all going to get very “meta.”) As the summer draws to a close, I have been focusing on making substantial progress with two articles before the fall semester becomes too much of a distraction. Both articles had already been submitted to journals and read by anonymous reviewers; both were returned to me by the editor with a request to “revise and re-submit.” What this means for those of you not in academic circles is that the reviewers saw potential in the articles but wouldn’t recommend publication until significant revisions were undertaken. So my task now is to make those suggested revisions and hope that when I return the article to the journal, the next set of reviewers agree that those revisions have made the article publishable.

pen-and-corrected-paper

A “revise and re-submit” request is regarded as a compliment; indeed, it is probably the best response to receive from a journal as very few articles are accepted straightaway. It’s a step closer to publication. It is, however, also overwhelming. My initial response to both requests was frustration as I had been ready to let those articles out into the wild, as perfect as I thought I could make them, and they had been returned to my care in order to blossom further. Revise and re-submit? That sounded like, well, work. And I doubted whether or not I actually could do any more to make these articles better. Luckily, with the support of my professors and the various resources they’ve suggested, I had been provided with plenty of advice on how to–you guessed it!–take the advice provided by readers’ reports. After I had calmed down a little, I swallowed my pride and resentment, turning to what I knew Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks would tell me to do. I am in a “complicated” relationship with Belcher; it’s more hate than love, to be honest. But I knew she was right. I had to translate those readers’ reports into a list of actions and create (the humanities student in me still gasps!) a spreadsheet to track my fulfillment of those actions.

As much I didn’t want to admit it, Belcher, and indeed many online commentators like Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza, had it right. Having already completed one of my R&Rs, I do declare that the recommended approach is a lot more restful and relaxing than I wanted to believe. So much so that I am now tempted to ask my writing students to create similar tracking documents, phrasing recommendations as a “to do” list and coupling similar suggestions from multiple reviewers, in order to provide, as ultimately as I have to, a cover letter explaining what revisions have been undertaken and why. It has only been by taking this approach to revision that I have really begun to practice what I so often preach to students. Teaching writing and revision is made both easier and more difficult by reflecting on my own experiences as a writer who must always revise. How can I guide students when I have figured out so very little of how to undertake this process successfully myself? How can I encourage them when I too feel so disheartened about returning to that brilliant, and, more importantly, finished draft?

Of course, all this allows me to empathize with students and makes the pose of “fellow learner” far more than a pedagogical tactic for encouraging collaboration rather than dictation in the classroom. What I plan to take forward to my teaching this fall is an expanded definition of “revision” as, etymologically speaking, “seeing anew” because I have realized that, while it certainly applies to using feedback in order to consider your writing with a fresh pair of eyes, the first step of this might be the need to see the feedback itself anew. The act of “translation” undertaken by creating a spreadsheet of recommendations and the satisfaction of recording what amendments–inclusions, changes, and deletions–function as responses to those: this is what has helped me revise my view of revision this summer.

The title of this blog post is derived from Marcel Proust’s remark (appropriately enough itself translated from the French) that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.” As an literary critic not wishing to be regarded as a mere parasite on creative artists or, worse, reality, I want to agree; as an academic aware of my responsibility to contribute new knowledge, I must concur. I have a career’s worth of writing to look forward to and hopefully the epiphany that this blog post narrates brings me one step closer to celebrating that it will be a lifetime of revision that will truly take me places.