So about a year ago, I finished a six month sabbatical in which the main research project I worked on was a literature review on creative writing pedagogy (as well as related topics such as the history of creative writing as an academic subject). This project was meant to strengthen my foundation of knowledge on the topic so that I could write an article exploring why creative research is not a standard part of creative writing instruction. I wanted to know enough so that I could publish my work in a journal outside my own field without looking like a complete idiot.
Admittedly, I didn’t get as much done with this project during my sabbatical as I was perhaps hoping for when I first conceived it. Mostly this was because when I applied for my sabbatical in fall 2019, I wasn’t expecting that by the time it actually started in fall 2020, the world would be in the middle of a global pandemic. But also I ended up working on a book project that I hadn’t entirely planned for, either.
Still, by the time my sabbatical was done I’d read about 11 books and 20+ articles on the topic. Based on what I’d read, I managed to complete a draft of my intended article by the end of spring 2021. I knew that what I had needed a lot of work but I thought I was in good shape to submit the thing by fall 2021.
Now fall 2021 has come and gone and spring 2022 is under way. My article continues to go unsubmitted.
It’s not that I’m not working on it. There was a short period of time where I did have to put it in a drawer for a little while to focus on other, more urgent things. But I’ve been working on it steadily for about three months now and, if anything, I feel further from being ready to submit than I was last spring.
In the few years I’ve spent investigating the role of research in creative writing, I’ve started thinking a lot about the role research plays in my own creative work, and how that’s changed as a result of my scholarly work.
I write fiction for fun, which I know is a statement that is likely to make a lot of professional writers grind their teeth at least a little. In saying that writing is a form of play for me, I’m not trying to trivialize or diminish what professional writers do or how much work it is. But in this life there are people who knit without the goal of one day becoming a fashion designer. There are people who run without the goal of one day becoming an Olympic athlete. And there are people who write without the goal of one day becoming a bestselling author. Or even getting published.
Because fiction writing is a form of play for me, I don’t focus that much on the quality of what I’m writing. Questions of authenticity and accuracy are pretty much moot. Which means research is pretty moot too. So except for a quick Google search here or there, I have always tended to paper over gaps in my knowledge with imagination or, frankly, BS. What does it matter? No one’s ever going to see any of it.
But in studying creative research, I thought it might be interesting to start practicing some of what I was trying to preach. Or at least attempt to explore the role of research in my own work so that when I talk to authors about their creative research, I have some experience of my own to work from.
So I recently finished a novel-length story that I’ve been working on for roughly a year and a half. I have a drawer full of stories like this—finished drafts of works that I have little or no intention of returning to. This time, rather than moving on to the next idea or the next project, I felt compelled to go back and actually try to revise what I had done. If nothing else, I wanted to spend more time with these characters and, after spending a lot of time reading about revision, I wanted to see what the process was actually like.
In designing the information literacy course I’m teaching this semester, I made the decision to end the course with a list of takeaways: ideas I wanted students to carry with them after the course was over. The last activity of the course is for students to add their own takeaways to this list, to tell me what made the most impact on them and what they expect to do with what they’ve learned in the future. The course just started, so I haven’t gotten a chance to see what students’ responses to this might be just yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with and what it might tell me about how successful the course was overall.
Among the takeaways I listed for them, one went in a direction that I wasn’t entirely expecting. The takeaway is basically that research is a lifetime activity.
In information literacy circles (and library circles in general) there’s a lot of talk about lifelong learning. So including a takeaway that tells students that research doesn’t stop when they graduate—that it’s something they will be doing in one form or another in various contexts throughout their lives—isn’t particularly surprising or new.
Also not particularly surprising is the fact that a lot of our talk about lifelong learning is forward-looking. By doing this, we’re positioning our instruction as “the start” of something: the start of what students know about research. What we’ve given them is a foundation on which to build future knowledge.
In writing this takeaway for my course, what was unexpected for me was how much time I spent talking not about the future, but the past.
This semester I’m using the opportunity of teaching a new (to me) course to teach information literacy through the lens of research context. This is something I’ve been doing to some extent for a while now but now research context is a much bigger focus of the course than it used to be.
Because of that, I’ve now introduced a second project to the course. The first project is the usual annotated bibliography, tweaked slightly from past iterations. This time, students complete the annotated bibliography in order to show that they understand the conventions of academic and scholarly research and, along with the annotated bibliography, they submit a reflection explaining how their research-related choices fit those conventions. Not too different from what I’ve been doing the last few semesters, but different enough that I’m curious to see how it goes.
The second, newer project comes at the end of the course. For this project, students will be creating a research product representative of one of the non-academic, non-scholarly contexts we’ll discuss in the course (personal, professional, or creative). This can be anything: a work-related PowerPoint, a social media post, a painting. As long as research was involved in the making of the work, it counts as a research product. The student then has to write a reflection explaining the research that went into the work and how that research is representative of their chosen research genre.
In theory, I like this project a lot. I’ll be very curious to see what research products students submit and what they say about the research that went into those works. I’ll also be curious what stumbling blocks they run into when it comes to completing the project since it requires them to submit non-academic work for an academic course.
Which brings up an interesting question: in an academic environment, is there such a thing as non-academic work? Can there be?
This past summer, I was very privileged to be asked to become a co-editor-in-chief of Communications in Information Literacy, the same journal where I published one of my first peer reviewed articles back in the day and where I’ve been serving as a peer reviewer for the past five years or so. One of the first things I’ve had to learn in my new role is how to think like an editor rather than, say, a peer reviewer or an interested reader. This has been a challenge, but luckily I have a lot of great support from my fellow editors as I get my feet under me.
Learning to think like an editor is important because, at least at CIL, all of the research articles submitted to the journal are reviewed by us editors-in-chief before being sent for the next step of the process. And what I mean by “reviewed” is that we all read the article submitted and weigh in on whether we think the article is within the scope of our journal and whether the quality and originality of the writing and research is high enough to be considered for publication. If it is, we send the article on for peer review. Hurray!
A lot of times, though, the article is not sent for peer review. There are a lot of reasons this can happen, seemingly. Sometimes it’s because an article is simply not within the journal’s scope. Other times, the article may be within scope and generally well-written but there’s something about it that’s just…lacking somehow.
This the area where I’ve really had to practice thinking like an editor. In doing so, I’ve learned that for me, at least, the missing piece in many of this “almost-but-not-quite” articles is a sense of why the research the author did is important or what it adds to the larger conversation around information literacy and any subtopics it might cover. In other words, what problem is the author’s research trying to solve?
I’m off for the holidays and won’t be posting any new content until January but I thought I’d pin a thing here highlighting some favorite posts from the second half of the year, in case you missed them. (Favorite posts from the first half of the year can be found here.)
Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.
Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.
Note: The following post contains spoilers for American Dirt (novel by Jeanine Cummins), Days Gone (video game), Dune (2021 version), Joe Pera Talks With You (if it’s even possible to spoil that show), and some dumb holiday movies on Netflix.