If you follow my snackgrams, you've probably noticed a lot more pictures of writing lately:
When I started snackdinner, I knew I wanted to write a book. But I didn't feel I could write a book. In this first "book report," I want to share why I changed my mind, in hopes that those of you imagining your own big projects might be inspired to start.
When a series of life events meant that I would be out of the classroom a while, I had no idea what to do next. I wasn't sure how to be anything but a writing professor. You're probably catching on much sooner than I did that one thing a former writing professor can do is, well, write. It took me a little longer to get there.
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I started thinking through the next phase of my life in the same way I've approached most others. I started reading. In the excellent The Professor Is In, the book that evolved from the blog of the same name, Karen Kelsky offers advice to graduate students and early career PhDs about how to succeed in academia. A tiny but mighty sliver of the book addresses people considering a move outside of the academy.
Kelsky offers this advice to PhD holders looking for new opportunities: write down your skills. Those skills may seem so obvious that they're not worth identifying. Kelsky, an anthropologist who specialized in Japanese culture, used herself as an example. Speaking Japanese is just standard practice for an anthropologist studying Japan. But speaking and writing fluent Japanese is not a standard skill for most Americans. In fact, it's an asset coveted by employers.
"The first task for anyone considering a leap into the nonacademic job market," Kelsky writes, "is to identify those skills and past experiences that are hidden, assumed, or taken for granted within your previous scholarly identity, and recognize each one as the achievement that it is."
So I started listing skills, starting with the most obvious. I can write. I can read and summarize dense theoretical texts in language that others can understand. I can develop ideas that no one has written about yet and develop projects designed to study those ideas. I can weave together differing viewpoints to present not just two "sides" of an argument, but a room full of voices, all with differing if overlapping interests. I'm a reasonably skilled interviewer. I've dabbled in archival research. I can work independently for enormous stretches of time, even when there's no guarantee of success. I can pivot and re-write entire chapters within a week, and then toss out and start again another week later. Above all, I'm skilled at teaching others to do all of these things.
Snackdinner was born when I realized I didn't need a classroom to practice any of these skills. If I thought of my students as parents instead of college writers, the whole internet could be my classroom. I could research and summarize parenting questions. I could share writing and research skills with other bloggers. And I could teach parents to be better researchers so that they didn't need to rely on sensationalist headlines about the most recent parenting scare.
Kelsky reminds academics that "You don't have to become an unassailable expert in the new skill as you once felt you must in your dissertation topic. You just have to be good enough at it to offer your services." I'm starting the book because, after 18 months blogging and freelancing, I have a good enough overview of the parenting advice landscape that I'm ready to offer something new.
While I'm at it, I'll be updating you with these book reports, both to let you peek behind the curtain and to hold myself accountable. I'll put these updates into my newsletter, so I hope you'll sign up and follow along.
Though I promise plenty of book updates, I don't promise the actual book anytime soon. Good work takes time! I will, however, pin myself to a goal here. I'll finish my book before George R. R. Martin finishes his.