The hardest thing I ever wrote: reflections on academic writing

I’m pleased to announce that I have a book chapter published! It’s part of Audio Education: Theory, Culture, and Practice, edited by Daniel Walzer and Mariana Lopez. This has been in the works for about a year and a half, but it draws on experience dating back almost 15 years.

This post is less of a reprint of the main points in the article, and more of a recollection of the writing experience. Maybe it will be helpful for those new to the academic side of writing.

This may have been the most difficult thing I’ve ever written

While I’ve had a couple publications and finished a dissertation, this is the project that has received the strictest (and best) editing so far. Basically, I answered a Call for Proposals about audio education and proposed a chapter about critical listening to pop music. This is something that I had done with both elementary school children and with college students.

My first draft was horrid. I was really out of practice writing academic papers. Because of my job duties, I didn’t have that much time to write, so the latter half especially was quite bloggy in style. At the suggestions of my editors, I cleaned that up and added some more material to the literature review section.

I almost gave up!

I almost gave up during the second round of edits. My editor was very tough on me, and I can’t thank him enough for it. He pointed out that I was referencing outdated literature, making generalities, and failing to connect all the dots. I even wrote to the editors saying that I didn’t feel like I had it in me to finish. Thankfully, they encouraged me to persist.

In the third draft I brought things to a more logical order with a better throughline about the central concepts. I started from a very practical, experience-based viewpoint, and finally found literature that explained and supported the techniques I had essentially stumbled upon. And now the chapter is so, so much better.

What I learned in the editing and revision process

My PhD is in music composition, so while I did have a written dissertation (along with a substantial piece of music), I didn’t have a ton of experience writing papers. At least, not writing papers to the level of a book chapter or journal article. This experience reminded me about two things–the importance of the literature review, and the importance of a clear, easy-to-skim format. 

My conception of the chapter certainly changed during the process. I was going to lay out some general concepts about music that you might point out to the students, then spend the bulk of the chapter with example descriptions of songs. This was clearly the wrong way to go.

In the end, I needed a better introduction on just what “critical listening” is, followed by these concepts, and then a clear explanation of what concepts to present to students of different ages. My detailed descriptions of the pop songs? Down to 2 or 3 bullet points each.

Now I have a product which will hopefully be useful to music educators interested in using pop music to teach critical listening at various age levels.

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