Fine writers should split hairs together,
and sit side by side, like friendly apes,
to pick the fleas from each other's prose.
- Logan Pearsall Smith
Old habits die hard.
Thus we have difficulty moving from an audience of one for our writing to a potential audience that is international.
When we were undergraduates, only our professor saw our written work. When we are graduate students, we typically have an audience of five - our committee members. Then, when we are professors, we are publishing to reach as many scholars as possible.
Ideally, the growth in our reading audience invites new habits. We need to seek out feedback early and often.
When we were undergraduates, it would have been "cheating" to have several friends read, critique and edit our work. When we are graduate students, having peers help us with our writing is allowable - laudable in my opinion - but we must still make sure that our work is independent. Too much help is "cheating."
However, when we are professors, any and all help is a boon. We are no longer trying to prove that we have the right to call ourselves scholars; that was the role of our doctoral program. Now we are out to contribute to an academic body of knowledge and the more comprehensive and clear our writing, the better.
We need to disabuse ourselves of the idea that getting editorial help is somehow "cheating," and we need to become comfortable with the idea of showing drafts at various stages to our peers and mentors.
When I work with doctoral students, I recommend that they show and discuss early outlines of their work with their advisor. Many advisors, understandably, prefer not to read incomplete or rough drafts and it is appropriate to wait to give them a dissertation chapter that is fairly polished. If your advisor prefers to see work in progress, by all means provide it. If not, seek feedback from friends in your program.
Editorial help becomes even more important when you are a junior faculty member and no longer have the experienced eye of an advisor to rely upon. Try to find colleagues willing to look at early drafts of your articles. Hire someone to edit your work before it goes out for review at journals or publishing houses.
One of the benefits of developing a network of editors and informal reviewers is that you will become less of a perfectionist about your drafts. Rather than worry whether a piece of work is good enough to send to a journal, you'll work towards a reasonable draft which friends or your hired editor can tweak and critique.
Finding a good editor is a challenging task, so next week I'll devote a post to ways of finding someone to help you with your writing.
Those of you who already have an editor: How did you find someone to work with?