12 Dec 1999

My "Gifts"

John Ray

There are many, many things I am not good at but I also seem to have had two "gifts" in life: A major gift for writing academic journal articles and a minor gift for making money.

People who are very good at something very often seem to do the thing for which they have a "gift" very easily and quickly. Composers like Bach can write timeless music overnight and painters like Picasso can paint acclaimed pictures in a matter of hours. What others could work on for a lifetime and not achieve, the gifted person can do almost without trying.

So it is when I write academic journal articles. At times I have woken up in the morning with an idea in my head and have had the completed manuscript for the article in the mail by that evening. AND the said manuscript gets accepted for publication!

The average academic, by contrast, labours for a year over writing an article and then often fails to get it accepted for publication! Around 80% of submissions to academic journals end up rejected. In some years, however, I had as many articles accepted for publication as the whole of the rest of the School of Sociology.

This of course evoked enormous envy. Getting articles published is the name of the game in academe (promotion requires it) so my colleagues actually hated me, I am told. I just made them look so incompetent by comparison.

The university puts out in its annual report a list of articles published by its staff each year and Schools or Departments are judged by how big their particular list is. The money they get seems to be influenced by how many articles their staff have had published during the year. Despite that, the School of Sociology managed to leave some of my articles off their list on lots of occasions. They deliberately shortened their list! That's REAL envy at work! I just made the rest of them look so bad, I suppose.

That I could do with no apparent effort what costs them so much work must have been hard to bear, I suppose. I just did not WORK for my rewards. That must have seemed unfair.

The ancient Greeks regarded such easy creative output as being something sent by the "Muses" -- Gods of the Arts. I can see why. When I write it is almost as if someone else is doing the writing. The words just seem to come pouring out and it is as much as I can do to get them written down before they are forgotten.

Poets often report this. There is of course the famous case of Coleridge who was interrupted by someone while he was writing "Kublai Khan" and found that the words were lost when he went back to complete the poem.

I suppose that part of the brain is working subconsciously to produce creative output when you have "gifts" such as mine. Producing something does seem very easy when the "Muses" are sending.

Part of the reason my academic journal articles have so often been accepted, however, is simply that I have something to say! I tend to see everything a bit differently from other people and this does give me a lot of things to say that do not occur to others. Most academic journal articles, by contrast are simply plodding along already well©known paths and making only the tiniest of advances along those paths.

Virtually all my acamemic writing, however was done in the 70's and 80s. In good years then I would get papers published at the rate of up to one a fortnight. In the 90s my output dropped to more like the academic average -- one a year.

I am not nearly as good at making money as I am at writing academic papers but I have been good enough to make life comfortable for myself.

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