Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Fear of Beginning (Or, "Pushing Submit")

[My rambling thoughts on the occasion of submitting my first article for publication. -Mary]

Two days ago, I submitted my first article for publication.

It was terrifying.

I thought I was ready, I really did.  I had read and reread the submission guidelines.  I had read and reread my paper.  I had gone over my footnotes repeatedly.  I was excited to submit it.  But when it came right down to it, and it was time to hit “Submit,” I nearly had to call an officemate over to direct my cursor over the word and push the button.

This article has been two years in the making.  It started out as a seminar paper for my Historical Methods class in my first semester of PhD work.  I was lucky to have an instructor who left our paper topics open, so I chose something I had wanted to write about for a while.  It was one of those wonderful projects that was fun to work on—I enjoyed both the research and the writing.  Yet when the class was over, I didn’t feel like I was finished.  I asked my instructor (who by this point was also a member of my PhD committee) if he would help me revise it with an eye towards publication.  It wasn’t going to fit in my dissertation, so I took the next logical step.

Finally, two years later, it’s submitted.  In the interim, I’ve had roughly 10 people read it, presented different versions at two different conferences, traveled to Washington D.C. to do research I couldn’t do from home, and completely retyped the manuscript.  I finally feel that the project is finished.

I’m learning, though, that feeling like it’s finished is a long way from being ready to let go of it.  I won’t lie: I’m kind of proud of this paper.  I think it’s interesting, and original, and, yes, publishable.  But the experience of writing was one that I found extraordinarily humbling.  So many different people have looked at this project already; I have been able to draw on helpful comments from colleagues and friends inside and outside of my field.  Still, I’m scared.  I’m not scared of rejection—I expect rejection.  I hope that rejection is accompanied by “We suggest you try another journal.”  If it isn’t, I’ll probably try again anyway!

No, what I think I’m scared of is the fact that, for the first time, I have made a really conscious effort to do something that is going to stick with me.  If this gets published, my name will be attached to it forever.  I’m so used to thinking in grad school terms—short-term, even if I am planning for the future—that the thought of anything that is going to go beyond the next two years is overwhelming.  I’m currently facing the two biggest challenges of my PhD: the exams, and the dissertation.  The coursework (which, if you include my MA, I have been doing for 5 years) is almost over, and I am stuck in the thicket of “almost-ABD-good-Lord-willing-and-the-creek-don’t-rise” for the next 10 months.  Yet here I am, having decided to go and jump ahead and try to publish something.  I know some PhD advisors advocate strongly against that and don’t allow their students to publish before they finish their degrees.  I have a wonderful advisory committee who pretty much lets me do what I want (within reason, of course).  They encourage me to do whatever I think I need to do.

So the project is finished…but the career is just beginning.  Maybe I’m starting a little early.  The thought of actually having a “career” is a little foreign.  Still.  I have to start somewhere.

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