Why is it called “writing up”?

A small group of my fellow simultaneously-dissertating-and-job-marketing graduate students and I have banded together to workshop our job application materials. We scrutinize vitaes for errors, analyze cover letters, and search for the perfect words to describe our life’s work in that most pesky of job application necessities—the dissertation abstract. For all of us, this is termed a “writing up” year.

Ah, the phrase “writing up.” It connotes a calm graduate student who spends her days thus: the student rises reasonably but not insanely early, makes a cup of tea and some breakfast, peruses the morning paper. She showers, makes her bed, walks her competed job applications and her bills to the mailbox (with no fear that any of those checks will bounce), and returns to her quiet desk in her quiet apartment to “write up.” There are no frantic searches for missing documents she knows exist but cannot find, no ransacking of bookshelves in search of the elusive secondary source citation she requires. No, this students is “writing up.” She spends four hours in front of her computer tapping away briskly at the keys, producing several pages of quality writing. This is possible because writing up means precisely that: she needs only to write up the ideas and arguments that have been neatly shelved in her brain since she returned from her last research trip.

The writing up graduate student breaks for lunch, when she meets a few of her writing up friends in a quaint sandwich shop. They sip fancy sodas and eat delicate little sandwiches and talk about writing up. All are proceeding swimmingly. They know precisely what they need to write and how to write it.

After lunch our graduate student retires again to her quiet desk, where she spends the afternoon calmly working on job applications. Her CV is free of typos, her cover letters all neatly prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that she would fit in perfectly at each institution she applies to. Her dissertation abstract is brilliant but not smug; her teaching portfolio shows a capable and enthusiastic teacher. After finishing several applications (because it’s a banner job year in her field) she goes for a run along the river, and returns to find several new voicemail messages offering her interviews at the AHA.

What a year, this “writing up” year!

The phrase “writing up” implies the stress-free, productive writing year we all want accompanied by the equally stress-free, successful job hunt. But we aren’t really “writing up” are we? We’re writing, but we’re also reading, thinking, reevaluating, changing our minds, our arguments, our interpretations. We’re bludgeoning our brains into producing the longest, hardest piece of writing we have ever produced, while we pore over H-Net waiting for new jobs to be posted, contemplating nervously what next year will look like if we have no job and no funding.

My friends and I in our ad hoc support group aren’t “writing up.” We’re writing. There’s a difference, you know.


2 thoughts on “

  1. Well said writing woman.It is a job to get a job, only more so when post-poned for some years time. It is nevertheless a hazing to be devoutly wished.Here’s your key line: “They know precisely what they need to write and how to write it.” This well-captures the inductees apprentiship into the guild of Ph.D candidacy. Splendid!

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