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  • Write to the Top! How to Become a Prolific Academic
  • Steven E. Gump (bio)
W. Brad Johnson and Carol A. Mullen. Write to the Top! How to Become a Prolific Academic. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Pp. xvi, 200. Cloth: ISBN-13 978-1-4039-7742-7, US$65.00. Paper: ISBN-13 978-1-4039-7743-4, US$14.95.

Yes, here is 'yet another self-help book for the academic author';1 the supply, indeed, seems endless. Fortunately, like most others, Write to the Top! offers a somewhat unique perspective. In this brief handbook, co-authors W. Brad Johnson and Carol A. Mullen emphasize the social and psychological apparatuses needed for success as an academic author. They do not dwell on style or on the technicalities of the writing act but, instead, offer foundational instructions to help academics become prolific writers. By 'prolific,' they mean 'writing and publishing a great deal and generally beyond even the most rigorous university norms for productive scholarship' (xiii). Johnson (associate professor of psychology at the US Naval Academy) and Mullen (professor and chair of educational leadership and cultural foundations at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) are well qualified to offer such strategies, insights, and tips: both have served as writing mentors, journal editors, and manuscript and proposal reviewers; both have researched, published, and delivered presentations on mentorship; and both have authored or co-authored numerous articles and books. Both, to use their own descriptor, could be qualified as 'outrageously productive' academics.2

Centred around sixty-five tips and their descriptions, this intelligent book is organized into eleven thematic chapters consisting of anywhere from three to ten tips apiece. Chapter titles are imperative statements meant to motivate; for example, 'Develop the Attitudes and Perspectives of a Prolific Writer' (chapter 4) and 'Practice Systematic Writing from Start to Finish' (chapter 6). Each chapter begins with an elegant summary of the tips and discussions that [End Page 123] follow; the summaries are showcases of the authors' call to practise parsimony and strive for clarity. Most chapters end with pithy, uplifting charges: 'Strive for balance' (122); 'Carefully and thoroughly plan your writing, schedule your commitment to yourself, and act on it with high intention' (46). The authors focus on academics at research-intensive institutions, where 'scholarship reigns supreme' over teaching and service, the other legs of the 'traditional academic stool' (28). Their guidebook is intended for new professors; advanced academics who would like to increase their writing productivity; mentors of junior colleagues; and department heads, academic deans, and other faculty developers. Those positioned to benefit most from this book, though, are academics who need to understand better not how they should write but why they should write – and why they should strive to write more. Of course, 'quality does matter, but volume helps' (122), because 'it is difficult to ignore a heavy vita' (119).

Johnson and Mullen are successful, I believe, in translating various 'New Age' concepts from creative writing to academic writing. They address issues of social, mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being; the existential meaning of writing to academics; and the idea of the 'writing life,' which is typically reserved to describe the life of professional – usually creative – writers. Without patronizing or being overly boastful, the authors are reflective and introspective in their presentation, demonstrating what they refer to as the 'contemplative aspect of the healthy academic's psychology' (75). They invoke, directly and indirectly, work of an entire school of writers on writing, including Julia Cameron, Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Betsy Lerner, and Pat Schneider.3 These names may mean little to most academics, but Johnson and Mullen have begun a dialogue between the creative and the academic that I hope will continue.

The authors' philosophical foundation, as stated in the final chapter, breathes life throughout the text: 'We believe that the truly productive academic integrates writing into the fabric of his or her life, and that for the outrageously prolific academic, writing is a personal, vocational, spiritual, recreational, and a lifelong commitment' (186). A simpler version is presented near the beginning of the book: 'Writing must be something you do because it is core to who...


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