How A Philosophy Professor Writes

Quick Facts

Pen or Pencil?
Pen, preferably one with a fun color (especially metallics)

Favorite place to write?
Home, at the table next to my guinea pigs

Favorite word?
Exigency

 

 

Ginger Hoffman, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy


SJU Writes:  Are there people you try to emulate as you write?

GH: Not necessarily. I often think about how Nozick used the phrase “superduper neuropsychologists” and got away with it, and wonder if I could do something like that. That’s one of the most famous writings, and “superduper” is in there. I try to stick in some fun phrases, but you want it to be professional and scholarly.

SJU Writes: Do you have any specific advice for writing in philosophy?

GH: Make sure you know the contours of your argument first, and then write it, maybe revise it immediately, but at some point revise it after you haven’t been working on it. So revise a ton, and at least between some of those revisions, have a day.

SJU Writes: So it’s really just a matter of taking the time and letting it mull in your brain while not actively working on it?

GH: I would say letting it not mull in your brain, so that when you approach it again, it’s approaching it anew. So then you say, “Oh, wait, I thought this followed from this, but now I don’t see why I was thinking that.” It’s just amazing what you’ll find after you’ve set it aside. When you step away from it for a day, two days, it’s not in your mind anymore, so then you can see where the gaps are.

SJU Writes: Do you enjoy revising?

GH: It comes with a lot of anxiety. I want what I produce to be good, and it’s hard work to do that, so it depends. But revising can sometimes be fun, and putting it down is, for me, hardly ever fun. Thinking of the ideas is fun. Getting them on paper for me is very hard. I love the ideas. That’s my very favorite part. But, that’s not yet to the writing.

—Nathan King ’20

How an English Professor Writes

Quick Facts

Favorite Word?
Wombat

Oxford comma, or no?
Absolutely

Music you listen to when you write?
Drafting something new: classical guitar. Something I’ve already done: the Simon and Garfunkel station on Pandora

 

 

Jason Mezey
Professor of English


SJU Writes: What writing are you currently working on?

JM: I’m writing an essay on the Bollywood-style movie “Dil Se.” I’m also writing an article version of a paper on “Reunion”–the Google advertisement–where two men, separated by Partition, are reunited by Google. It deals with how we understand India and how Google is integrating into Indian culture.

SJU Writes: Can you describe your writing process?

JM: A lot of flailing, running into dead ends like a brick wall. Reading, more reading, stalling, distraction, grinding out chunks of text, repeating the cycle. When I’m in a groove, I can produce a lot of halfway decent text pretty quickly, but it’s hard to get in a groove when I see all that I still have to learn.

SJU Writes: Is there a certain book, poem or play that has influenced your writing?

JM: I don’t write fiction or poetry, so it’s basically just works of fiction. There’s this book, “The World According to Garp,” that’s really impacted my writing in terms of my writing process and what inspires my creativity. I find that I’m usually influenced by books with perfect endings that I’ll never be able to write about like “100 Years of Solitude” or “Song of Solomon.”

SJU Writes: What do you hope to pass onto your students as an English professor?

JM: I had a professor who always told us to “have fun” with our assignments, and I always put “Good luck and have fun!” at the end of each assignment. Even if the chances of having fun are very slim, well, it’s still an idea. It’s great when I see students working on a topic that they’re passionate about, and I hope they get at least some joy out of their work.

—Jillian Buckley ’20

 

How an Archival Research Librarian Writes

Quick Facts

Favorite punctuation mark?
Exclamation point!

Favorite word?
Avail (often used with no)

Music you listen to when you write?
Often none, but if so, then it’s country or Mozart.

 

 

Chris Dixon
Archival Research Librarian

 


SJU Writes: What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?

CD: One of the fun things I did was a paper on James Knox Polk and the Mexican-American war. I thought about it years later and actually read all 1,000-plus pages of the Polk 10-volume diary because I was asked to rework the paper. People who really know me know who my favorite president was—and it is Polk. The reason is because I had done that particular paper. It’s always been an interesting topic for me.

SJU Writes: Who was your most influential teacher?

CD: I have a good friend today who was one of my favorite college professors. He was laid back. One of the classes he taught was dealing with the Third World many years ago and the differences between the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. He drew a line on the board, and he put “north” and “south.” He said, “Do you have any questions about that?” Everybody was blank. He said, “Are you sure no one has any questions that you want to talk about?” Nobody did, so that was the end of the lecture for the class that particular day. It was one of those things to tease him about, but he was an excellent teacher.

SJU Writes: What is your editing process like?

CD: I often struggle with how much punctuation to put in. When I sit down to write, I’m sometimes trying to come up with the right words because I’ll rewrite a sentence three or four times and I still may not have it right. Or, I’ll punctuate it, and I won’t have it right. I usually need someone else to look at it. I need a good editor. I’m a pretty good researcher. If I were to actually write, I would need a writing partner to look at things and edit.

 

—Brittany Swift ’19

How a Political Scientist Writes

Quick Facts

Favorite place to write?
In my kitchen with a cup of coffee.

Favorite word?
Exacerbate

What are you writing now?
little essay about teaching peace in the age of Trump

.

 

Lisa Baglione, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science

 


SJU Writes: Is your writing primarily academic?

LB: I’m working on a revision of a textbook that I have. But what I do for fun is I– and it started because of my kids and them going away to camp–I would try to think of things to write to them over the summer, so I started to write haikus. And haikus are great because you can finish one–it’s only 17 syllables–and I have started to make them so that they moreso make a whole story. And the goal is either to be very funny or evocative. A lot of times it might be just inspired by a gorgeous day. We go away to New Hampshire in the summer, so I will write something inspired by that for my daughter.

SJU Writes: How do you view the revision process of writing? 

LB: I know that we forget this as teachers sometimes, but I write on people’s papers as if I’m writing to myself. It might seem harsh, and I never really mean to be harsh. I really see the writing and revising process as a conversation, but I forget that students are new writers. Being young is wonderful on many levels, but for some of us who struggle with confidence, it’s just such a hard time, because these blows, these criticisms, can set you back. I was completely set back at various times, and as you’re older, you take what’s helpful, and you leave the rest behind.

SJU Writes: What advice would you give to students writing in your discipline?

LB: You need to find your thesis and realize that your thesis is the guide through your essay or your paper. I would say just like in any other writing, the thesis is key. Terminology and clarity is key, and then again, for all writing, find your own voice. And I say that with a smile because one of my best friends in graduate school, when I was struggling with something, she said, “Lisa, find your own voice.” I didn’t know what that meant. It took me a while. Teaching really helped me find my own voice. I say to my students, “Imagine you’re having a conversation with a friend, or at the Thanksgiving dinner table, whatever. This is how are you going to explain whatever it is to somebody else in your voice.”

—Lindsay Norton ’20

 

 

How a Theology Professor Writes

Brendan Sammon, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology

Quick Facts

Pen or Pencil?
Computer, but if I’m writing in a journal: pen.

Favorite word?
Smote.

Favorite place to write?
The Green Engine Café.


SJU Writes: Describe your writing process. Where does it begin?

BS: I suppose it begins in desire. There are two channels. The first being what already started for me in academia. I have a history of theological thought. The other would be creative and where those things take me. In terms of the process, I will write ideas out. The initial part would be writing down ideas and trying to articulate them. Those that I think can be directed into something more fruitful will take on an outlining process.

SJU Writes: Do you ever find inspiration when you are teaching?

BS: Yes. There will be a kind of interaction between what students know and what I know. Part of the theology of beauty means writing about the way in which the human attempts to create what we call “art.” How humans reflect, speak about the divine, speak about transcendence, speak about God and God’s presence in a variety of ways. There’s so much happening in a work of art, that’s why it pulls us in, but there’s a lot taken for granted. So, a good analysis of that would help us better foreground what it does for us and how it allows us to see things that aren’t so easily visible.

SJU Writes:  Explain your revision process.

BS: Endless. You get to a point where you never feel like it’s finished, but you have to release it at some point. Revision will entail lots of reading, looking at different ways to articulate an idea. I’m looking for context and  clarity,. These are ideas expressed that I want expressed. I’ve learned to distance myself from my writing because when you start publishing, you get rejected.

SJU Writes: Do you have any suggestions for students who are writing in your discipline?

BS: Clarity. And developing lines of thought. I think all writing requires a degree of self-awareness, and I think that the better the writing, the more self-aware an author is. I think students tend to become overwhelmed with the ideas, and they find it difficult then to articulate a line of thought. Or they will do it at the last minute. It’s what people put in that they get out.

SJU Writes: Why do you write?

BS: For the same reason I eat, sleep, and breathe. As another way to engage in the world and make a contribution of some kind.

—Rachel Zablocki M.A ’19

How a Songwriter Writes

Daisy Abrams ’19
Music Major and Singer Songwriter

Quick Facts

Favorite word?
‘Autumn.’ I just love the season, but it’s also a fun word

Favorite music to write to?
Probably Elliott Smith because he’s so bare. It’s a good inspiration to get in the mode.

What are you reading right now?
I’m reading the collection of Mary Oliver’s poetry.


SJU Writes: Do you have a favorite part of the writing process?

DA: Every time I start writing a song, I get a little intimidated, like, ‘What if I don’t have any good ideas?’ So I guess my favorite part is every time I prove myself wrong. I think everybody has their way of expression, and they can get in touch with that. It’s just a matter of working it like a muscle. And the more you do it, the more you get that infinite ability to just tap into something.

SJU Writes: What have you written recently that you really like?

DA: I wrote something called “The Early Riser.” I liked it because I was in this state of wanting to be productive, and I felt if I could just get up early every morning at 6 a.m. that would mean that I’m getting to a better place with achieving my goals. That song was about that battle of wanting to do these things and feeling like I can’t.  I really like that song because it continues to be relevant. It’s about my inner self-sabotaging habits that I have sometimes. It really felt like a genuine thing that I was writing, and when I play it, I really feel that.

SJU Writes:  It must be gratifying to put into words what is hard to comprehend on an emotional level.

DA:  That’s why I love writing music because I feel like the music part adds that element of the thing that you can’t put into words. If you were to just speak out the words, maybe you’d take something from it, but I don’t think that they’re meant to stand on their own if you’re writing a song. So I think that the music plays an equally important role, and the lyrics tell you what I can tell you, and the music finishes the rest.

—Julia Furey-Bastian ’20

How a Philosophy Professor Writes

Caroline Meline, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy

Quick Facts

Favorite word?
Word.

Oxford comma or no?
Yes. The more commas, the better.

What’s a word you always misspell?
Weird. It breaks the rule of i before e.


SJU Writes: What kinds of writing are you doing right now?

CM: I have been doing op-ed writing and working on small pieces that are personal essays lately. I have a book that I have been working on for a long time called The Constant Dieter: A Philosopher’s Guide to Losing Weight. It has a lot of interesting things in it that come from both my scholarly life and my personal attempt to understand myself. And I have research articles, scholarly articles, that I have been working on for conferences.

SJU Writes: What’s your favorite piece of writing you have ever produced?

CM: The last piece I got published in The Inquirer, an op-ed which was about the death of my dog Stretch. For now, I would say that is my favorite piece because I wrote in that kind of state I don’t get into very often where I’m not really trying for it and what I’m going to say just comes out.

SJU Writes:  Have you always enjoyed the writing process?

CM: I did not develop a love of writing until I was in my thirties. I had a hatred of writing when I was an undergraduate. I was so anxiety-ridden about working on a paper that I would really work myself into a state. For me, once I get going, it is always better. I am a perfectionist. My standards are high, too high, which can cripple a person.

SJU Writes: What advice would you give to undergraduate and graduate students embarking on their own writing journeys?

CM: This is the main advice I would give, and somebody gave it to me. I was writing a master’s thesis at the time. I was so stuck and paralyzed and terrified that I thought I couldn’t finish the degree because I couldn’t write the thing. My advisor said, ‘I am going to make a contract with you and you have to agree to this. You will write a draft of each section without any revision and then tell me how it is going.’ And it worked. So my advice to students on writing is to talk on paper. Just talk, and let it happen, and don’t criticize until later.

—Gina DeRosa ’19

How a Music History Professor Writes

Elizabeth Morgan, Ph.D.
Professor of Music History

Quick Facts

What’s a word you always misspell?
Pachelbel

Pen or Pencil?
Pen

What are you reading now?
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen


SJU Writes: What is the best thing you’ve ever written? 

EM: I was really proud of the introduction to my dissertation in graduate school. I was writing about women making music in homes during the time of Jane Austen. I feel like I captured a sense of the world that I was writing about in my own prose. I felt that sense of full creative spirit in everything I wanted to say. It was a really fun process, and I was really proud of it. I still feel good about that.

SJU Writes: What kinds of writing do you do right now?

EM: The main thing is academic writing, mostly for academic journals, so they’ll be read by other musicologists and historical musicologists. The thing that’s been exciting to me, as a musicologist, is that I’ve found there’s a place for creative writing in my scholarship. I study music-making in homes, which is often not well documented. And so, I read a lot of fiction to inform my understanding of what people were doing at home.

SJU Writes: What is your writing process?

EM: I will write to work through the ideas. Once I have a bunch of prose, I do something called a reverse outline. I go through it, and for each paragraph, I then write a one-sentence summary of that paragraph’s main idea. Each sentence has to make sense as a  construction of an argument, or I know I have a problem.

SJU Writes: What is your favorite aspect of the writing process?

EM: I like it when you feel like you’re solving a puzzle. It could be on the smallest level, but also on a really big level. I had a big article that I wrote and, as a process, I drew a diagram of the article because as I was writing, I realized there were really four angles that I was looking at this one body of music from. I drew up a diagram of that basic concept. At the center were the main things I really wanted to communicate about this repertoire and the people who played it and then the four different places I was coming from. That was like a solution because I couldn’t figure out how it would eventually be structured.

—Angelique Frazier ’20

How A Spanish Professor Writes

Elaine Shenk, Ph.D.
Professor of Spanish and Sociolinguistics

Quick Facts

Favorite word?
Estrafalario,
which means eccentric in Spanish

Favorite punctuation?
Dashes. I know that I shouldn’t, but I like dashes!

What are you reading now?
It’s called The Age of Opportunity by Laurence Steinberg, and it’s all about adolescence because I have an adolescent.  I’m trying to understand him, and it’s the best book I’ve ever read about adolescence.


SJU Writes: What is the best thing you’ve ever written?

ES: In college, we had this little booklet that was creative writing . I’m not a creative writer at all really, but I got the idea that I felt like writing a fictionalized account of something that had happened in my family. It was about my dad. He had a pretty bad farm accident and was sort of close to death, so I wrote it, and it was this ethereal ending where you couldn’t really tell if he died or not.  It’s bizarre, but I remember being really caught up. I don’t know if it’s just because I was a young child when it happened, or it was my brain’s way of processing that that happened to my family and the crazy impact that it had on us for the rest of my life.  So, I found myself just riveted to writing it, and I’ve never felt since or before like that.  I will never forget how I felt writing it. I was so in the flow.

SJU Writes: What is your least favorite aspect of the writing process?

ES: Trying to go back to a piece of writing that I feel is unwieldy and making it work.  Especially in my academic papers, I tend to put it all on the page and get it out there so that I end up with a twenty-page, single-space document when I actually need about a ten-page, single-spaced document.  I hate having to take sections out that I feel I worked really hard on and realizing they aren’t crucial.  

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline?

ES: Revise, revise, revise. Before that, think in Spanish, not English. Then if you feel like your structures are really simple based on what you can produce in Spanish, you can always expand on that. You can put linking words to connect sentences.  But don’t take from English and try to translate into Spanish because that will never work. And then, revise, revise, revise.  It gets down to just little tiddly grammar, little pieces that aren’t that important, but they do make an impression with the overall result. I think sometimes students in my discipline feel like, “It’s just a couple accent marks or agreement.  Why does it matter if it’s really ‘o’ or ‘a’?”  But, if you work on that at the very end of your writing, you will come across as a much stronger writer.

—Hayley Burns ’20

How A Young Adult Novelist Writes

April Lindner, Ph.D.
Professor of English

Quick Facts

Do you prefer pen or pencil?
Computer

Favorite music to write to?
Italian pop music

What are you reading now?
Magdalene by Marie Howe

 


SJU Writes: What is your favorite aspect of the writing process?

AL: Rewriting. I really get tied up in knots about coming up with the first draft of anything, but when I’ve got the first draft down, it’s a matter of tinkering and patching things together. That’s the part I like—the craft part.

SJU Writes: What is your least favorite aspect of the writing process?

AL: The blank page (or the blank screen). 

SJU Writes: What is the best thing you’ve ever written in your life?

AL: I am particularly fond of my novel Catherine, which was the second of my three novels that have been published. It’s a young adult novel and is the one that was read the least, but I think it’s the better of the three.

SJU Writes: What kind of music do you like to listen to when you write?

AL: really like to listen to Italian pop music, partly to get in the mood for the novel that I’m working on and partly because I’m trying in my spare time to practice the language. So, it’s a very low-stress way of practicing it. And the words are foreign enough to me that they aren’t as distracting as American pop music would be.

SJU Writes: What advice do you have for students learning to write in your discipline?

AL: No matter what the discipline is, my advice is always the same: Read widely and deeply in the discipline you want to write in. If you read only from a particular poet, for example, you will sound like an imitation of them. But if you read lots of different poets, then all of them will combine to add to your voice.

—George Frattara ’20