It happens from time to time that I look back at work I’ve done in the hopes of finding some new work to do. Sometimes, I look back and find that I’ve moved on for good reason, that the backward look is a waste of my time and effort, that there’s not much for me in what a friend describes as a country from which we have all emigrated. Sometimes, though, it works, and I’m able to find places where I might be able to do some work of interest. Those are more pleasant events, even if they are fewer than I might like them to be.
One such example inheres in the image above, which is the slightly-edited typescript of a conference paper I gave some years ago, when I was still at work on my dissertation and still held the hope–the expectation, really; I was sure I’d be among the few exceptions to the rule of college teaching work–of a tenure-line job. I remember that, after giving the paper, I’d thought it’d been well received, and so I’d meant to take the usual next step with such things: developing it for publication.
That’s how it’s supposed to go, really. A person has an idea about a text or group of them and drafts a short piece to get that idea out onto the page where it can be seen decently. At that point, they look over it and check to see if it’s actually worth further development; it isn’t always, really. If it is, the academic will then often do the initial work of fleshing out the idea. For me, that usually means (because I do still do some of the work) looking at the primary source material for evidence supporting the idea. It also often ends up meaning a short paper–longer than the initial draft, which usually runs a page or two for me–comes out of the work. Mine commonly come out between 1,200 and 1,500 words, plus citations, which is publishable in some journals and is a good length for a roundtable talk.
At that point, paths vary. If the piece seems sound enough to send to one of the journals that publishes such short pieces, it goes there (if after at least one outside reader looks at it, as is the case for me–one of the benefits of having a wife I met in my graduate program). If there’s a roundtable that will take it, it gets submitted there. More commonly, it gets reviewed and expanded into a conference-length paper, usually some 2,600 to 3,250 words (plus citations). Such was where the paper above had been when I gave the long-ago talk, and a good conference paper will provoke comments and questions from audience members that can be used to expand and refine it into a journal-length paper–which usually runs double or more the length of a conference paper. At least in my field and in my experience, and I’m not alone in it.
Typically, when I go through to look at where and how a paper will need expansion, I follow the patterns I use when I am drafting and revising work in any other context. That is, I stub out where I think what kind of thing needs to go, and I highlight it so that I can see it quickly on review. I try to be consistent in the highlighting color; I use teal for that purpose, not only in my more academic work, but also in my creative endeavors and in the templates for my freelance work. Doing so helps me to know at a glance what I’m looking at, which helps me focus on doing the work rather than having to figure out what work I need to do.
It’s a concern.
When I look back over the work I’ve done, seeing the highlighting waiting for me betokens promises. Some of them, I very much need to act upon; leaving the messages for myself that I leave is tantamount to promising myself that I will return to the project in time. Some of them are aspirational; they show that there is more to do, more that can be done, and that I can do it. They show hope, and hope is always something worth having.