Which Idea to Pursue?

I had a nice exchange with a writer friend on Twitter about choosing an idea to pursue for longer works, such as novels.

When writing short stories, the time investment is low, so you don’t have to triage ideas. You can, in principle, pursue most of them because the investment is something like 1-3k words per story. However, when we get to the realm of a novel, the commitment is much greater; a typical novel is about 90k words; horror and category romance tend to be shorter, 70-80k, while secondary-world fantasy can be longer, 100-120k words, with higher word counts allowed for established authors while newbies are expected to keep it lean. Many people say and I concur that you can have a full draft of a novel in three months (about 1k words per day, which is the length of a good letter of reference; it’s not an onerous word count). I drafted about 65% of the novel last summer; over winter break, I wrote the remaining 35% and did two comprehensive edits; I went through three additional edits before I actually started querying in late April/early May. I am not one to write 1k words/day; it’s more like 2.5, 3, 3.2, 1.2, 0, 0.4, 2.4, 2.2, 3.7, 0 in thousands of words per day. As you can see, I can hit 8-10k per week, but the daily allotments are all over the place and I definitely take breaks. I don’t write every day, because work, life, internet, boredom, etc. I also like to binge-write when I can, and I can’t when the semester is in session, plus binging isn’t sustainable for longer than two or three weeks at a time (ask me how I know).

My first novel is done and currently out with agents; so far, I’ve received one request for a partial manuscript, and still waiting to hear back. The whole querying business is pretty disheartening, but my skin has been thickened by decades of applying for grants, so I’m pretty sure I’ll live. Also, I have Plans B through Z if Plan A (for agent) doesn’t pan out.

Anyhoo, I was DM-ing with this writer friend, who asked how to pick the right idea to pursue for a novel. Like most creative people, he has far more ideas than he can pursue, and I am the same. Those of us who write short fiction sometimes get told by readers that a certain short story would be great if expanded into a novel, but there are still at least half a dozen of those at any given point in time.

How do you pick which idea to pursue for longer work?

I shared my philosophy (backed by personal experience), which is that it almost doesn’t matter which idea you pick. As long as the idea is halfway decent, it is the execution of the idea that creates value in the  novel. You can get a great book from a bare-bones plot but with enough texture from characterization, interpersonal conflict, setting, etc. Or you can ruin a clever and original plot by lackluster writing.

I completely understand the anxiety over making sure you’ve picked the right idea, but I believe it’s the enemy of improvement and achievement.

Here is the tale of how my first novel came to be. I originally had an idea for a completely different novel, and it was great, and serious, and fleshed out in terms of secondary and tertiary subplots, and everyone to whom I showed the outline said it would be great… And then I kept dragging my feet. I was scared to start, scared because that novel needed an author I definitely wasn’t and probably still am not. I made it into such a huge deal in my head that I was completely blocked.

So I said f*ck it and wrote a completely different novel instead.

Of course, I didn’t start the second one as a novel. I basically picked a throwaway idea that seemed lighter and easier to write, and I said I would try to write a novella. Not as long, not as serious, much lower stakes (for me). I started writing, and in the process of writing the characters and the conflicts deepened, and a whole tapestry unfurled. Before I knew it, I had a novel. Is it the world’s most original novel? I am sure it’s not. But I really think it’s good, and so do a bunch of other people. It did what it needed to do. I finished it, and learned a ton doing it, and I don’t even hate it. I am also in much better shape to write harder stuff now because I am more aware of what I can and cannot do.

So my advice is to pick any idea that seems kind of cool and makes you excited (as opposed to terrified) to write, and just run with it. Whatever it becomes, it becomes.

Another bit of wisdom, and, again, I don’t think I’m alone in this, is to not write the stuff you dread writing. A boring chapter bookended by two great chapters? You can probably omit it and trust the reader to fill in the blanks. A scary/difficult/off-putting chapter? Maybe you don’t know enough about your characters or conflict yet; skip it for now and get to it later, once you truly know what needs to go there.

There is a chapter about halfway through my book that is the last thing I wrote. It was an important chapter resolving a huge gridlock, and I wasn’t able to come up with a satisfactory way to do it until I finished the whole book. Only then, in hindsight, it was clear what had to have happened, and when I wrote it, it came out perfect.

Why I am writing about this for an academic audience? First, I think some people might enjoy these craft notes. I know I am always a sucker for craft notes, even if it’s not my craft. Second, there are parallels to technical writing and academic science.

Some of my best technical work didn’t come from the shiniest ideas. It came because we picked a matte (as opposed to shiny) problem and did really good, deep, thoughtful work on it. The resulting papers were much better and more insightful and more impactful than one could’ve imagined when we first started out.

And when you are stuck on a technical problem, you should ignore it for a while and go do something else. Sometimes it works itself out in your subconscious. Other times, in the process of moving on to other stuff, you learn enough new skills that you’re able to tackle the problem much more efficiently and successfully than before.

In science, as in art, you can’t force things. You have to allow for things to fall into place, and you have to trust your gut (the mouthpiece of your subconscious) that things don’t fit or that they aren’t where or when they should be. Always listen to the gut.

How’ve you been, blogosphere? How is summer treating you?


There is something that happened with a colleague and, as always, I fear I am overreacting or imaging things (welcome to being a woman), but my gut tells me I’m not and that I should stick to my guns.

There is a colleague with whom I’ve collaborated on and off for years. He and another colleague are experimentalists and go after money together, but when they work together with me, they always seem to expect I will come with my own funds and do the work that’s beneficial to them. I brought this issue up a bunch of times, but this never changes. They basically want me to fund my own work, and since our interests are often aligned, that often works out, but still. Another colleague says he often collaborates with others without going for join money, and honestly that’s great, but I don’t have five grants on similar topics. Generally, the technical distance among my active projects can and usually is fairly large, and being a theorist I am usually less flush than experimentalists, so my people are already double booked for stuff I have funding for, without me siphoning their time from funded projects for something a colleague thinks would be unfunded fun to do.

Anyway, I’ve always considered this colleague to be among the nicer ones around, but I’m not so sure anymore, honestly.

This is what happened, and you can tell me, blogosphere, if I am overreacting.

There is a popular class of techniques, let’s call them Triangle , that have been utilized everywhere in the last few years, in particular to address the class of problems I will call Apple, among other applications. Apple are a class of problems of interest to many in my broad area of work, but I am not interested in them. In any case, applying Triangle to Apple is not particularly novel at this point. People interested in related problems, such as Orange or Peach, are also looking into applying Triangle to their problems, which is understandable and reasonable. To summarize, this is common now:

Red Triangle Pointed Up on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Red Apple on Apple iOS 16.4Heavy Equals Sign on Apple iOS 16.4Slightly Smiling Face on Apple iOS 16.4

However, the problems I am interested in are fairly far removed from Apple. I will call the problem I am interested in Clover. Now, my group has applied Triangle to Clover and it’s fine, just doesn’t really do what I want to show on Clover.

Red Triangle Pointed Up on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Four Leaf Clover on Apple iOS 16.4Heavy Equals Sign on Apple iOS 16.4Neutral Face on Apple iOS 16.4

So we dug and dug, and realized there’s a class of techniques from the same general (broad!) field as Triangle, but still quite different; let’s call it Kapow (for the explosion emoji). It turns out, using Kapow to address Clover is exactly what I wanted and it’s perfect.

Collision on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Four Leaf Clover on Apple iOS 16.4Heavy Equals Sign on Apple iOS 16.4Smiling Face with Heart-Eyes on Apple iOS 16.4

My student dug up the fairly esoteric Kapow and applied it to Clover, and has fantastic preliminary data. The use of Kapow is really not widespread at all, and definitely not its use on Clover or anything Clover-adjacent.

Now, that student recently presented their dissertation prospectus. The collaborator from above was on the committee. The collaborator really really liked the use of Kapow, of which he’d never heard before.

He asked immediately after the prospectus defense that I send him the slides so he can go on and apply Kapow on his problem of Onion, which he’d unsuccessfully been trying to address using Triangle.

To summarize, colleague has done this

Red Triangle Pointed Up on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Onion on Apple iOS 16.4Heavy Equals Sign on Apple iOS 16.4Slightly Frowning Face on Apple iOS 16.4

and now wants me to hand over my Kapow stuff so he can try this:

Collision on Apple iOS 16.4Plus on Apple iOS 16.4Onion on Apple iOS 16.4

There was no offer of collaboration or anything. He basically asked that I give him info on my unpublished, very preliminary work that can potentially be a medium-to-big deal, so he can use it on the problem of interest to him. Presumably, this will be done with none of our participation and with no attribution to us.

I was pretty shocked. This is not something he heard at a conference. This is extremely preliminary data that he only had access to through the educational mission of the department. I would never ever ask someone what he asked me.

So at first I ignored him, hoping he would take a hint. No such luck. He accosted me before a faculty meeting, and I had to say no, with other colleagues sitting around and presumably listening in. I said this was preliminary data and not suitable for sharing. He said he “just” wanted the slides because Kapow would work so great on his Onion problem, it would be sooo great, and don’t I think that, too? I said yes, sure, it would, but it’s not for sharing right now. I said I could send him some references or else we could collaborate, but I would not just hand over my stuff. To this he was shocked and dismayed, like incredulous at what I was even implying — that he would scoop us. The thing is he might, for all I know. Right now Kapow+Clover is something no one is expecting, especially because Kapow is pretty obscure. Once the first application papers of Kapow come out, the cat’s out of the bag. I want my group and not my colleague’s to be the ones to release the cat, since it’s our damn cat.

I’m still reeling. The colleague acts like I’m the crazy one for not wanting to share. I am not not sharing. We are not on the same grant. I don’t actually have an obligation to make his life that much easier at a detriment to myself. He does seem a bit desperate, but given that my group has applied Triangle to Clover and gotten fine even if not great results, I am pretty sure he can apply Triangle to Onion and get results that are more than fine, so the issue is likely with the student working on the problem (I know said student) rather than with the actual technique. The colleague and his student could totally get what they need from Triangle because his Onion problem is fairly close to Apple. Kapow might be overkill for what they need, anyway.

I feel so disappointed. The colleague is a collaborator, someone who I counted on being by my side. But I guess there are always limits to loyalty, and the limits appear to be very self-serving.

What say you, blogosphere? Am I imagining things? Or is this clear overreach? 

Semester Endarhhbleurgh

The spring semester is coming to an end, and it’s a cause for terror, not celebration, because I have to teach in the summer again. I didn’t want to, I said I wouldn’t, and then the person who was supposed to wasn’t able to, and now I’m on the hook again. I also have teaching overload in the fall. This calendar year, like last calendar year, I will end up teaching 2x more than a faculty member with my group size and amount of grant money is supposed to teach. I am getting seriously pissed. Granted, there will be some extra money in it for me because of summer teaching, but it’s not enough. I would really like it if I could get out of some damn service, too.

I $#^%@#$& hate service. Why is everyone constantly being evaluated? JFC, like we’re all some lowlifes in perpetual danger of getting in trouble. Leave people alone to do their job and don’t waste their time with frequent paperwork. It’s enough we’re all our own administrative assistants now and no help is coming (only oversight and restrictions and scolding) in regards to purchasing and travel.

I gave up some of my external service. The demands on my time and sanity could no longer be justified.

Is it me, or is there more bullshit and busy work that’s part of this job than even five years ago, let alone ten? Is it the ballooning administration, mowing down everything in its path? Just more more more more more of mindless work.

Teaching has been less rewarding of late. Since the pandemic, students have been expecting ever more permissible classrooms, boundless flexibility with no questions asked, and all the higher ups do is tell us we should accommodate. Nobody says how, or God forbid offers some resources to aid with all these accommodations, it’s just dumped on faculty. Versions upon versions of the same test for all the people who are supposedly last-minute (the morning of the midterm exam) sick. That was not much of an issue before the pandemic, but is now widespread because many students expect us to take everything at face value, and actually get peeved when an instructor calls them on it, for example, by requiring a doctor’s note for repeated last-minute illnesses in a semester.

Students are also performing notably worse, on average. When compared to even just 5-10 years ago, the averages have dropped significantly, and now there are long tails below 50% on exams, whereas similar-difficulty exams never showed such trends before. We are admitting more students, but most of them seem to be students who really shouldn’t be in this major, yet here they are and we’re all supposed to help them hobble to graduation.

There are persistent issues many students have with math, and this is a math-heavy major. I’m sorry, but a student cannot be successful if they can’t do high-school algebra. Pulling out a common factor from a polynomial. Manipulating fractions, such as figuring out a common denominator or canceling terms on different sides of the fraction line. In this major, students cannot just sort-of know simple stuff like that; they need to be completely fluent, because math of a much higher level underpins the courses in the major.

Many kids show up with gaps in knowledge in subjects other than math. I don’t know if this is also an effect of the pandemic, and  we now have cohort upon cohort whose preparation is deficient in this subject or that.

OK, writing this down is making me feel all murdery (oh, by the way, watch the show “Beef” on Netflix!). Maybe I should stop here and instead ask the academic blogosphere: What have you been up to, bloggy readers? Have you noticed a change in student preparation, and, if yes, what do you think the cause is?

As a treat, some Twitter levity.

State of the Blog

Over the past couple of months, I met with two bloggy friends and the topic of the blog came up. I suppose it’s clear that xykademiqz wasn’t what it used to be, and here are some of the reasons.

I am not what I used to be. I’ve been blogging since 2010, when I received tenure. I’ve been tenured for years now, getting close to 20 years of teaching. Many (most?) of the issues that have always bothered me still do, only not as acutely. Why not? I’m older, and honestly I don’t care as much anymore. I’ve found ways to get out of doing a lot of the stuff I don’t want to be doing, and I don’t feel as guilty about that as I would’ve when I first started out. So all the irksome aspects of academia are not personally as irksome anymore, not because academia has changed, but because I and my attitude toward it have.

Covid did something to us collectively, and I don’t just mean that it killed or devastated many people (which obviously it did). It did put into perspective, even for people who were more-or-less physically unharmed, how their energy and passions were exploited in the workplace, only for the workplaces to not show up for their employees when it mattered. It’s not a surprise that  people got disengaged from their jobs during the pandemic. Perhaps I am one of them. To me, the pressure of having kids at home, masked teaching in person, managing the demands of research students (several of whom ended up with mental-health issues drastically exacerbated by the pandemic that I was expected to handle to a degree no advisor should, but that, owing to the abysmal mental healthcare on campus, no one else was apparently available to offer any actual support for), and plummeting grant availability created a potent cocktail called a Rapid Depletion of Fucks to Give.

I still do my job, and do it well. That’s the benefit of experience — you don’t have to burn with passion in order to perform at work. I love teaching and advising, and research can be fun, but I most definitely no longer look to the professional community as the body that is supposed to legitimize my existence or assign worth to my efforts.

I read papers and go to conferences, and I get overwhelmingly bored. I see what it is that “civilians” (nonacademics) mean when they say that science is hard and boring. I see it now; I didn’t before, but I do now. It’s so boring, so often. So much of the work is incremental and uninspired.

Granted, all this might just be my age. Seems like I’ve been battling midlife crisis through most of this blog’s existence. Maybe I was born middle-aged?

There’s more to life and the world than academia. And none of us will live forever.

In any case, I also have other endeavors that I find exciting and worthy of my energy. I’m not satisfied with the challenges in the technical sphere any longer, in part because the work done depends on other people (students, postdocs). I want to challenge myself, personally, and to rise and fall on my own merit.

Finally, the blogosphere isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure. Very few voices that were around back when I started are still around. When I do blog, it often feels like it’s into a void. The fun of other bloggers stopping by and commenting has definitely diminished because so few comment anymore. I suppose that’s natural, but still a little sad.

So, what happens with xykademiqz? I don’t plan on closing it, but it will probably be updated about as much as it is now, which means weeks or months between posts. I still have plans to compile a “best of since 2016” collection (and there were some excellent posts in this interval) into Academaze II (with a cooler name), but I’m not sure when. The original plan was last summer, now this summer, but it might not happen, mostly because I’ve got other stuff (*cough* novel(s) *cough*) that I’m more enthusiastic about spending my limited time on right now, given I still have both kids at home and a demanding job.

Overall, I’m still here, and I will remain here, but very low key. If you have questions you’d like me to address on the blog, drop them in the comments or email them, and I will try to get to them, although chances are I’ve already blogged about the topics of interest, probably more than once.

How’ve you been doing lately, bloggy readers? 

And, to wrap up, a bit of levity.

Mission Drift

The semester is in full swing, and oh boy, is it ever swinging!

  • We’re interviewing six million candidates for two million searches. Where the $%^@#%$  we are supposed to put all these new faculty, their labs, and their students is anyone’s guess. We’re already filled to capacity, especially regarding student office space. I am not the only one who has to curb student recruitment because I literally have no place to put them. FFS
  • The proliferation of nonsense activities that supposedly enhance the student experience and waste everyone’s time has reached stratospheric levels. At the same time, the pleas by the likes of me to offer more sections of large courses—so we’d have smaller student-to-faculty ratios and students would actually have a chance to interact with faculty, which is actually rather than supposedly critical for the student experience—fall on deaf ears.
  • I rode on the elevator with a colleague the other day. I don’t interact with this colleague very often and the ride took all of 20 seconds, yet he managed to share his frustration with the ever-increasing demands by admins that we faculty waste time on these student-experience events. While it’s true that there is a while stratum of people whose job is the student experience, that is not the faculty job at an R1. We don’t have the time to hunt for money, crank out papers, advise students, teach students, serve professional societies and universities, and also somehow make it to 1263572 additional events whose purpose is…something.
  • My job is great mostly because I get to hang out with smart young people and help launch them into their careers with hopefully more understanding of and passion for the topics I teach than they would have otherwise.
  • There is so, so much effort invested on reviewing everyone all the time. What the hell happened with letting people be to do their work?

What have you been up to, blogosphere? 

Here’s also some Twitter levity, with a few bummers interspersed for good measure.

Kindness, Bluntness, Attractiveness

For those of you keeping track, my novel is done. It has gone through two rounds of edits, and is now with beta-readers while I focus on short-form writing and, you know, work and life. I suspect I will be ready to query in early March.

Today I wanted to write about something not exactly within the scope of an academic blog, but nonetheless an important issue that affects most of us one way or another, and especially those among us who are women. There will be some discussion of sex and relationships, so if you want to stop reading, now would be a good time.


Let me start with a couple of anecdotes.

There was a guy I dated for a couple of years during the transition from high school to college. When I started dating him, he had beautiful shoulder-length curly hair. At some point, he cut it off to maybe a couple of inches in length. I did not care for this change. I never told him I disliked it, though. I remember beating myself up for catching myself not liking how he looked and for questioning my attraction to him. However, within a few weeks I simply got used to it. I certainly didn’t stop having sex with him over the stupid haircut; it turned out that the haircut was completely irrelevant for our connection. I never discussed this tiny bit of internal turmoil with him because, even at age 18, I knew nothing good would come of it; all it would do was hurt his feelings and damage our relationship.

In another anecdote, my friend from graduate school started dating this girl. He was getting serious about her and thinking marriage and family. He shared that he didn’t think he could be a dad because he couldn’t envision that he would deny himself buying a new CD (yes, this was 20 years ago) in order to buy the kid new shoes. He couldn’t envision putting the needs of a kid before his own. I already had a child at this time and, in a bout of uncharacteristic wisdom, I told him that he was imagining some random kid demanding CD money for shoes, whereas in reality the kid would be his, and the kid would be the person he would love more than anyone or anything in the world, so using CD money for shoes would not feel like a sacrifice at all; it would be something he would feel happy to do. (The friend went on to marry this girl and have two kids with her, and by all accounts they’re all quite happy. He’s a great dad and his children do not go around barefoot.)

Which brings us to why I am presenting these two seemingly disconnected anecdotes. Because they speak to the importance of kindness and the power of really loving someone.

A few weeks ago, this article made a splash on Twitter (also see below). Before you read it, I want to emphasize that Autostraddle is a site for lesbians and queer women, so even though the article reads like it was written by a dude, it most likely wasn’t.

Anyway, in the comments on Twitter and on the Autostraddle site, people have been polarized in response to the article. To summarize, Partner A gained weight. Is it OK for Partner B to just tell Partner A they’re not attracted to them anymore (especially if asked point blank) or should Partner B shut up and deal with their decreasing feelings of attraction in some unspecified but presumably shame-free and socially approved way?

I am of the mind that if it really bothers you that much that your partner has gained weight that you won’t go near them, I don’t think you love them very much and you likely never did, and it’s fine, it really is, you can’t control if you’re attracted to someone or not, and you can’t control if you love someone or not, but do everyone a favor and leave your partner alone, and please don’t go all scorched earth where you obliterate their self-esteem with your bluntness on the way out.

My husband and I have been married for over 20 years. We don’t look like we did when we first got married. However, I don’t know how he would have to look for me to not want to get into his pants. Maybe if he grew horns or a tail? Nah — those might actually be added turn-ons! 🙂 Seriously. I don’t know if this is universal, but I think it is: If you really love someone, you will want to be close to them and their body no matter what. Hey, even the legendary Ozzy Osbourne knew this to be true: “I love my wife whether she’s fat, thin, fucking square, round, fucking oblong shape.”

That’s different from looking at headless bodies and ranking them on attractiveness. Yes, some headless bodies belonging to anonymous people are more attractive than others, but that stops being important when you are really close to someone, because then their body is simply part of them. And what’s with people coolly assessing their partners from multiple yards away? People having sex get really really really close to each other, like you’ll have a square foot or two of skin before your (often closed) eyes, but, most importantly, sex is a whole-body experience, with the touch, taste, smell, and sound being at least as important as sight, and the actual connection with your partner being far more important than any particular sensory input. (I know someone will say here “But men are visual!” Yes; women are, too. Men and women are not different species; they have the same five senses and they both have emotions, FFS.)

Unfortunately, the whole “Don’t you dare get fat” warning is one that girls start receiving from a very young age. I have dieted my whole life, and it brought me nothing but lowered metabolism. For example, here is a picture of me, age 21, at a costume party (yes, I am holding a tail).


I had a BMI of about 22, and was strong and toned because I played volleyball. Yet, there were always guys around who would come to tell me I’d look great if only I lost 10-20 lbs.  This “You’d look great if only” negging bullshit started when I was an early teen and would only stop if I bit people’s heads off for it. Most girls have a similar story, with a whole life of feeling like shit, which I’d say is the whole point — to waste our time, make us doubt ourselves, and make us settle for things and jobs and people far below what we deserve. I look at these pictures now and want to slap myself silly, make myself see how objectively great I looked, instead of allowing assholes to erode my confidence.

My beloved childhood BFF (next to me in that pic; sadly, she died of a heart condition in her early 30s) lamented her then boyfriend, who would complain about her face when she had an acne outbreak. She said, “How is he going to act around me if we have kids and I gain weight?” She eventually broke up with him, and I think she was right to for many reasons, this being an important one.

I am going to posit that if you really love your partner, changes in their appearance won’t bother you. You might notice them, but they won’t fundamentally change how you feel about the partner. It might bother you that the changes bother them, and you would likely want to be supportive in however they choose to deal with their own feelings about the changes, but the connection between you two, if it is real and strong, will not weaken, and might, in fact, strengthen in the face of challenges and added vulnerability, leading to deeper intimacy.

If your partner’s changes in body shape make you not want to get close to them anymore, you should probably do both yourself and them a favor and leave. We can’t control how we feel, but we can control how we act. So don’t fucking destroy their confidence by spelling out for them in no uncertain terms that you’re not attracted to them anymore. In addition to being able to see themselves in a mirror, I guarantee they already feel your dwindling attraction, so there’s no need to be cruel and remove all doubt. Trust me, there is no coming back from those words. Not everything needs to be said out loud, FFS, and if you pretend you don’t know that, if you pretend blatant honesty at all times is the only way, you are needlessly very cruel, and you are also very lucky that you haven’t had someone as unkind as yourself serving you a taste of your own medicine. Like so:


There’s a guy I dated through most of college and a couple of years post, which included the time the above picture of me was taken. His family, especially his sister, would often make jokes about the size of my ass, and he did nothing to defend me. I met him last over a decade ago here in the US. He called me fat and told me I should consider moving my family to a more walkable city. To that, I did not say anything about his thinning hair, his receding hairline, the shape or color of his teeth, or how disappointing it was that his style, jokes, and interests hadn’t changed at all.

Blogger MIA and Question for Readers

Sorry I’ve been MIA; I’ve been trying to finish the edits on the novel. Yes. The draft is done. Edit round one is done. It’s still a trashfire, but it’s now a trashfire with a complete narrative arc and, if I do say so myself, nuggets of not-entirely-awful writing. The roller coaster of emotions spanning from “This book is the most despicable heap of garbage ever to be vomited on the electronic page” to “This book is so amazing, it will single-handedly spread good cheer across the globe and end poverty and violence forever” is not for the faint of heart. But the heap-of-garbage emotions are present 90% of the time, and that, as I hear, is par for the course.


I will be back in about a week with more tales of academic woe. We will have eye rollers (anyone sitting in a committee meeting), high rollers (faculty with more grant money than they can effectively manage), steam rollers (faculty and administrator bullies), weed rollers (students with access to narcotics), and holy rollers (devout followers of every new teaching fad).

Finally, does anyone have thoughts about a newsletter? There are a bunch of people subscribed to the blog, so they already receive notifications whenever I post, but would there be interest in a real newsletter, sent perhaps monthly or so?

OK, that’s it for the moment. And now, Twitter levity!

2022 in Rearview Mirror, 2023 in Rose-Colored Glasses

Happy 2023 to all blog readers! May 2023 bring you good health and contentment, and, if you’re in academia, also untold grant riches, high-profile publications, and a teaching schedule that makes you miss the most pointless meetings.

This has been my 2022:


  • Wrote 7,834 grants. Several were funded and lean times were avoided
  • Taught twice as many courses as I usually do, to great fame and success, but mostly great exhaustion. Also great joy due to interacting with undergrads, and, yes, great teaching evaluations
  • Moved labs. Paid movers out of pocket because department was not helpful and I refused to have graduate students throw  out their backs by moving heavy furniture
  • Started several new research projects. Interviewed a bunch of new students, some of whom will hopefully come here and on whom I plan to spend the aforementioned grant money
  • Did some nice science. Papers forthcoming


  • Eldest graduated college and started grad school! It feels like it happened ages ago, but it was only this May
  • Smurf started middle school
  • I read like a literary speed demon (finished roughly 150 books this year, about 120 on Kindle)
  • Wrote and published some short fiction (ten acceptances, to be precise, out of 88 submissions, which is about the same as last year, but not as many as I did in the years past). I was busy with teaching and writing ALL TEH GRANTZ and, honestly, a bit bummed out about all the funding precariousness. Also, it’s been five years of writing short fiction, so it’s a little less enticing than it used to be. I am itching for a different challenge, not in lieu, but in addition to short fiction—
  • Which is why I’ve started and am about to finish the first draft of a novel

In the coming year, I plan to:

  • Finish the novel, edit, have it beta-read (already scheduled), edit more, and then start the painful job of trying to get it traditionally published (both through agents and through direct submissions to publishers that allow it). If the novel were to get picked up for publication, I would consider 2023 a smashing success
  • I should put out Academaze II. I’ve got a great cover already commissioned and finished. I could and should probably do that in the spring, low-key, and save the summer to start drafting a second novel
  • I’ve been thinking about putting out a short-fiction collection. I have a unifying theme and certainly plenty of stories to choose from. Collections don’t sell very well, so I am a little ho-hum about doing it. Maybe between novels

How’s your year been, blogosphere? Highlights from 2022? Plans for 2023? 

Back to Feedback

Giving and receiving feedback can be tricky. Tact is paramount, and even the most salient point will fall on deaf ears if not delivered with respect and kindness. (See here and here.) However, the recipient must be genuinely open to feedback, otherwise the whole exercise is moot. 

I know a few short-fiction writers who ask for critique, but no matter how on point or how tactfully delivered the feedback may be, these authors end up incorporating none of it (and, in a few cases, end up aggrieved that there was any feedback to begin with). Of course, no one is expected to agree with every comment or adopt every suggestion, but feedback from seasoned writers usually illuminates legitimate issues that deserve some reflection. 

Recently, a similar thing happened with a junior faculty member in the context of technical writing. This was not the first such instance, either. This junior faculty member will ask for feedback on their writing, and not just from me, and then basically ignore all of it. In the most recent review cycle, I sent  only broad-strokes feedback but no sentence-level feedback because I’ve had the experience of it being ignored and I don’t have time to waste, but another colleague did provide detailed inline comments, and did a pretty good job of it, too. The junior faculty member ended up not incorporating a single suggestion, even the comments that were no brainers, such as suggestions regarding cumbersome sentences that desperately needed restructuring. Let’s not even talk about hyphenation or punctuation, something that most people are generally worse at than they think they are, but too few strive to improve (The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is my sacred text).

I mean, why even ask for feedback if you don’t want to reflect upon what you’ve written? Not all feedback is equally valid, but assuming you’re asking people whom you trust, who get what you are trying to do, and who have experience in your genre (be it fiction or technical prose), why wouldn’t you consider their feedback seriously? 

Conversely, if you feel your work is beyond reproach, why do you waste people’s time? Do you expect they will come back and say, “This is perfection. No notes”? Is it some weird pull between thinking you ought to get feedback and also believing you are above feedback? I can sympathize with this sentiment, truly, but I usually have the presence of mind (or perhaps humility) to recognize when someone has pointed out a real issue. The goal should be to make the manuscript the best it can be. Having a healthy dose of ego is good, as it helps you stand your ground in the face of low-quality, bad-faith, or misguided feedback. But the ego shouldn’t be so large that it obscures avenues for real improvement simply because someone else has pointed them out. 

What say you, blogosphere? How’s your experience with giving/receiving feedback been? 

Essays on Professional Jealousy in Intimate Relationships

This essay hits hard. 


And there’s this one, that turns darker still: 



If you want to follow the discussion on Twitter, here are a couple of threads.