With Facebook's "On This Day" reminders, I frequently look back to the days of writing my dissertation. Even without the newborn-to-toddler twin stages simultaneous with the process, it was a stressful and somewhat lonely time. I was separated from my academic community because of our move down south when I was five months pregnant.
The transition from graduate student to dissertation author is tough. You spend years planning your life around the pace of the academic semester, with the predictable rhythm of the term (beginning, midterm, final) and the structure of the course syllabi. Suddenly, you're thrown into a realm where the rhythm is new and irregular. You can't tap to the regular beat that's been set for you, you have to create the rhythm yourself through long-term planning and self-mentoring.
It's a hard transition for many students. When I'm coaching a student, I emphasize the process of breaking down the big project into manageable chunks. Micro-deadlines fold into larger ones. One of the books that I love for this is Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. Even though some of its discussion of process is dated, the basic principles are incredibly helpful. My biggest take-away was to divide my tasks up into small/medium/large and rote vs. creative tasks, and then use my small bits of time efficiently (oftentimes, the sweet spot when two babies were napping at the same time). Even if I didn't have space for large chunks of writing during a particular day, I could still attend to e-mails, annotate a bibliography entry, proofread a few pages, or make a list of needed interlibrary loans.
Currently, we have two students who are about to finish. Because of their particular circumstances, they had to move quickly through their academic projects. I worked with each of them to create an individualized work plan, looking realistically at their weekly commitments and breaking things down into weekly and monthly goals. They worked the plan, and now Tim is helping with the final editing (proofreading, footnotes/bibliography, format checks) as they move towards completion.
They did the work. But assisting with the transition is a joy-filled process.
A few years back, we were invited by Stanley Pelkey and Anthony Bushard to contribute to a new book on music in television and film, Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in A Suburban Age (Oxford University Press, 2013). Tim and I had collaborated on smaller projects, but this was the first time that we co-authored a large chapter. We had watched the 1960s psychedelic spy-show The Prisoner together a couple of times and were fascinated by the way that it wove music--diegetic (music coming from inside the scene itself) and non-diegetic (music that only the viewer hears)--around the twists and turns of its plot.
We were thrilled when we saw the other chapters in the book and honored that we were chosen to contribute. The chapters intersect so well that it has already been used as part of a class developed by Anthony Bushard.
And we found out from one of the authors this week that the book was given a detailed review by Jamuna Samuel in the latest edition (March 2016) of the Music Library Association’s journal Notes. Each chapter was meticulously overviewed. Here’s a bit from our part:
Joanna Smolko and Tim Smolko’s writing on British television spy series The Prisoner (1967–68) addresses the use of American music to trigger British and American political concerns of the time. Within the larger picture of the Cold War-era spy genre, The Prisoner’s music owes much to the “Bond formula” (p. 149). “In the larger cultural view,” they write, “it appears that within this British drama, America itself—as represented through music—is a potent symbol of rebellion, anarchy, and hope (p. 151).
Go read the review if you have chance. Or even better, read the book. The chapters provide a kaleidoscopic view of music’s role in television and film in the 1950s-1960s. Then watch The Prisoner. It will blow your mind.
Be seeing you.
This post is aimed at academic writers who want to reach a wider audience than those in their discipline, but I hope that any writer could benefit from this. By nature, some books are only for general readers and some are only for academics. But more often than one might think, a book can reach both crowds simultaneously.
For example, I write books and articles about popular music with an extensive bibliography, a detailed index, lots of footnotes, tables, diagrams, musical examples, and explanations of chord progressions, musical forms, and harmony. Yet, I keep musical examples short and easy to follow if I can, so they will make some sense to people who don’t read musical notation. I keep my discussions of music theory brief and to the point. I prefer endnotes to footnotes or in-text citations to make reading easier on the eyes. My objective is to present as much detailed research as I can to my readers, without alienating or boring them.
Why should an academic writer try to reach a general audience?
Joanna & Tim
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