Witness to an Academic Autopsy

I was talking with a friend recently about the special kind of hell that academic writing can generate inside our heads, a distinct kind of neurosis that smothers and kills one’s ego again and again and again.

Sharing any kind of writing can be nerve wracking, sure, but academic writing, I think, carries with it the weight of Being Assessed, of having one’s worth measured against a gold standard to which we plebes can only aspire. A standard, I might add, that’s almost Oz-like in both importance and invisibility: the discourse behind the curtain, natch.

This discussion’s taken on a new weight as of late, as I’ve had two pieces of writing Formally Assessed and found wanting.


These are two essays that I submitted to two different journals. One came back quick with what’s called a “Revise and Resubmit” (which is just what it sounds like) and the other was accepted with major revisions.

On the one hand, this is good; for, as my advisor says, though, it’s just easier for any journal to say no, so I should feel some sense of pride in not being rejected outright. Even if, as she notes, doing the actual revising will hurt.

That’s what stands for a pep talk in this context, I guess: congratulations! they didn’t tell you to fuck off. Yet.

And yeah, at some level, I find these results pleasing.  A foul tip that stays foul is better than one that goes fair; at least I’ll have another shot at both pieces.

I’m a selfish dick: I want people to read my stuff, damn it, so if this is what I’ve gotta do to make that happen, so be it.

But on the other–

I can’t bring myself to read all of the editors’ comments closely quite yet. It makes me so freaking nervous.

I mean, just the prospect of looking their notes–reading the results of my own autopsies, at it were–has generated this profound sense of anxiety from which I can’t seem to get free.

Trust me: I realize this is a selfish thing to be whining about, but it’s something I don’t know how to process quite yet, and something I’m going to have to get used to. I’m used to being autonomous as a writer, though writing online—both blogging and fan fic—has begun to change that. I’ve come to enjoy collaboration, and getting feedback on my work in this context is almost always great.

There’s just something about having my strictly (ha) academic work examined and judged in this way that freaks the crap out of me—and yet it’s part of my job to get used to it, as a grad student and a nascent baby scholar.

So. What’ll probably happen is this:

I’ll drink a few whiskey and cokes and read through the editors’ comments when I’m a little too far gone to care, to let the stings and arrows of criticism sit too deep in my skin. When I’m much too sober, I’ll write. I’ll respond the best way that I can to the editors’ suggestions and then le jeux sont fait.

I’ve chosen to make a crack at this gig, this panto of being a scholar, and now I’ve got a new part to learn: she who must revise.

4 thoughts on “Witness to an Academic Autopsy

  1. revise and resubmit is like the penultimate (who says people don’t say penultimate?) academic honor, and accepted with major revisions is like the fucking holy grail. So congrats. I wish that the honors of writing in academia didn’t sound so much like “meh, I guess you don’t suck too bad.” But just for you, a little visualization present: Editor #2 is reading your submission, hunched over a cluttered desk in a dark office, face growing more and more excited. ‘Holy shit,’ editor #2 thinks, ‘this is sooo on track- I totally love what she did with the thing! This is better then my thing on the same thing.’ The excitement turns to worry and catastophizing about editor #2’s academic future and tenure. ‘I can’t let the world know how much I like this thing, I mean really like- I mean I almost want to make funny. sexy pictures of this thing and post them online. But no! I cannot let anyone challenge my thing. So I will disguise my fangirling with a grudging and condescending admittance of a small amount of potential merit.’ Editor #2 nods to self, satisfied that all is right in the ivory tower.

    1. HA! Cheers for the visual. And like I said, I know that this is just whining. Because you’re right, it’s a little bit better than “today, you’ve been judged to not suck.” It’s the perfectionist in me, damn it! I want to get it right the first time.

      1. probably that perfectionist streak that got you where you are, so whine away if it pleases you. I hope that your re-write anxiety is not too tough to handle.

      2. Cheers, darlin.’ Thanks to you, I now have a new aspirational goal as an academic–for someone to create “funny. sexy pictures” of my academic wank “and post them online.” : )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s