Advice for Writing in the First Year

Over at The Faculty Lounge, fellow election law expert and Florida State law professor Franita Tolson commented that new law professors often get advised not to worry about writing during their first year. She is a bit skeptical of that advice.  So am I.  I think a new professor should definitely get something into the publication pipeline during his or her first year in the academy.

The obvious problem for a first-year professor, though, is finding the time to write.  The demands of the classroom can be overwhelming.  Moreover, a first-year professor needs to acclimate to a new environment, including getting to know his or her colleagues. In short, it’s not easy to write much during the first year because there are other important and time-consuming activities in which a new law professor needs to engage.

So how should a new law professor structure his or her life in order to accomplish the goal of publishing during the first year?  Here’s my advice . . . First, do as much writing as you can between the time you accept your appointment and the time you move to your new institution. You’ve probably already been writing in order to get your initial appointment, so this shouldn’t be much of a switch for you. Second, get summer money from your new institution so that you can make it financially feasible to move to your new office by no later than June 15. Third, don’t even consider prepping any classes until at least early August. The only thing you should focus on in relation to teaching during the months of June and July is creating a syllabus for your class (and you should do this activity during the evening). Fourth, during June and July (and the early part of August), work exclusively on writing an article.

If you are disciplined with this approach, I think you will likely have a fairly decent working draft of an article by the time classes commence. To be sure, the article won’t be complete and will still need to be edited, sent out to others for comments, etc. But my experience is that revising an article is much easier to fit into one’s first-year schedule than trying to more or less write an article from scratch. In addition, you can use your Fall Break (if you have one) and part of your Winter Break to do more substantial work on the article. Presumably, then, by the time the winter law review submission cycle rolls around in February/March, you’ll have something to shop.

Of course, not everyone will be able to structure one’s life this way, individual writing styles vary, and this is all easier said than done. But the payoffs are enormous. You’ll feel great about having that first publication as a full-fledged law professor out; your colleagues will likely be impressed with your scholarly ambition; and you’ll be able to breathe just a slight bit easier in the summer following your first year with the knowledge that you’re already ahead of the curve.

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1 Response

  1. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Sounds good to me. An additional tip for the newer and experienced writer, and what works for me: the only thing I ever did on Fridays throughout my first several years of teaching was write. It’s surprising how much progress can be made if you absolutely dedicate a regular discrete block of time to writing, and nothing else. Any day or group of hours works, but leading writers, in various fields, attest to the payoff of having dedicated blocks when nothing else but writing goes on. I still allocate discrete times for writing that I jealously guard, though the exact times vary by semester and season.