Melissa A. Martinez is a native of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas and former bilingual teacher and counselor who is an associate professor in the Educational & Community Leadership Master’s and Ph.D. in School Improvement programs at Texas State University. Her research focuses on issues of equity and access along the P-16/20 continuum as they relate to college access and readiness for underserved students, the preparation of equity-oriented and socially just school leaders and Latinx leader(ship), and the experiences of faculty of color in academia. Some of her work can be found in Educational Administration Quarterly, Urban Review, The High School Journal and Leadership and Policy in Schools. She also recently co-edited the volume Latinas Leading Schools with Information Age Publishing.
Describe your writing process?
Most of my scholarship is based on empirical work, and less conceptual/theoretical in nature. Therefore, my writing process actually begins when I’m conceptualizing a study, getting familiar with literature and thinking of the types of questions I want to ask/explore/know more about. And then considering what conceptual or theoretical framework would be best to inform the work; which is reflective of my own epistemology and ontology. This all happens a bit simultaneously for me, while considering the methodological approach and data sources.
If speaking to what my writing process looks like after all of this, and when I actually begin to craft a manuscript or book chapter, for instance, it usually begins in chunks/sections that are often organized in a formulaic way (reflecting the “typical” outline for an article). I often begin with my headings for sections (i.e., Introduction, Literature, Theoretical framework, Methods [data sources/analysis], Findings, Discussion, Implications, Conclusion). And from there draft a bit of an introduction and my literature. These steps will vary depending on whether I’m working on a piece by myself or collaboratively. I often take the intro and methods sections if working collaboratively with others, so that maybe someone else writes the lit review section, someone else the framework, and then collaboratively we work on the findings.
When working collaboratively, a lot of the writing process entails discussion, about what type of content to include in each section, ensuring we are all on the same page about our research questions, familiarizing ourselves with the data sources- assuming if I’m taking the lead on the piece that the data sources are in existence and those collaborating with me may or may not have assisted with data collection. This also means that if the data for the manuscript/chapter is from a larger research study, then the group working on the current manuscript are familiar with what has already been done/other projects related to the larger study.
When did you develop your writing process?
The process I use for writing/research really is reflective of the process that I learned as a doctoral student in working on collaborative research with my own advisor. I have since tweaked and personalized my approach.
What time of day do you find you write best?
Generally, my writing mojo is more active in the morning (8-12) or during the day. I’m not an evening or night writer…
What resources helped you become a better writer (books, mentors, writers, etc.)?
The things that have helped me the most in developing as a writer include reading as much literature (books and articles) related to my research interests as well as methodologies that align with my work; being a peer reviewer for conferences and journals, as this enables me to see what some of the latest research in my field/research areas are focused on and the approaches being taken; working collaboratively with a research team (so that others read my work and I read there’s and we provide each other with feedback); and writing itself; drafting and reworking. Taking advantage of mentoring and writing workshops (as a student, early career faculty, and now as a mentor) offered through professional associations and on my own campus have also been beneficial.
How do you make time for writing with all the other commitments you have?
I utilize my Outlook calendar A LOT for everything; scheduling classes, yoga, and writing time. I’m also specific with what I’m working on (ex. Writing for X paper; X conference proposal). And the writing time includes not just writing something, but the research aspect of looking up and reading relevant literature; identifying what journal outlet would be the best fit for a piece, etc.
I also utilize google drive/documents A LOT and this helps when I don’t have my laptop near me but have some time to kill (ex. When I’m waiting at the dentist office; I remember doing this) or when an idea comes up and I need to jot it down. I go to my google doc via my phone/the app. It’s super helpful.
I have also just trained myself to be able to tackle/write a manuscript in spurts, so I don’t need 2-3 hours at a time, I am somehow able to get right back into it and pick up where I last left off. Having said that, I do try to tackle and finish a paper/project within a condensed amount of time. For instance, I’m not working on a paper for over a year continuously. Yes, there have been papers that got left behind for several months, but then I pick them up and to really get them done, means I’ve got to put forth the effort of revisiting them several times a week for a month or two. Ex. A paper that was accepted for AERA 2020 was not presented because of the pandemic. Though the paper was never complete, and it wasn’t finished until summer of 2021. Essentially what happened was that each section of the paper (Intro, Lit, Framework) was incomplete and needed to be finished up, and the findings needed to be completed (as we submitted preliminary findings for the proposal).
What are your strategies for staying productive and for maintaining momentum with your writing? (get concrete)
I have a few strategies for staying productive that include:
1. I created a Publications organization chart my first year as a faculty where I keep track of all research and writing projects that I’m working on, and as they get accepted for publication, I gray them out/shade them gray. The chart/table includes the following headings: Paper Title, Authors, Journal/Conference, Date of Submission/Timeline. I regularly revisit the chart and update it. This helps keep me motivated and organized.
2. Along with the org chart, I update my CV regularly so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting activities I’m engaged in and am able to easily update my CV for annual review and promotion and tenure deadlines.
3. Other strategies include making time for dialogue about what I’m working on, getting feedback and support from colleagues/academic friends when I’m stuck or feeling low writing energy, and cultivating an area of writing that I am finding inspiring at the moment if it isn’t a particular project/paper that needs to be completed. Being able to be creative with my writing is also a motivator for me.
What is the best writing advice you have gotten?
I don’t feel like there’s been one piece of advice that has been the best, but there’s been lots of words of wisdom I’ve taken to heart and made my own, and passed down to others. For instance, as a doc student a mentor told me I should always have 1 paper in the early stage of progress, 1 paper near completion, and 1 paper under review. I actually think it needs to be always have at least 3 papers under review, because of how long the publication process takes.
Some folks use Mendeley, and other programs to help them keep track of literature and citations, as well. But I’ve never gotten into those and am old school, working on my citations manually and organize the literature I read by folders. Really, organization in general is a big factor for me in staying motivated and being able to be productive with my writing.
What writing tools do you suggest?
I think a big part of writing for academics aside from growing into your own as a scholar and finding your research niche is knowing what the publication process entails. In becoming faculty, the fact that academic writing is a learned process became solidified for me. And so, I try to help make all aspects of the writing process, including the publication aspect as transparent as possible. For me, and others. Because of this, I developed a workshop/presentation called “Going from research to publication,” that I’ve tweaked and delivered in various outlets over the years primarily for doctoral students and early career faculty. And I think that it’s tools/opportunities like these that are particularly useful as well, to help make folks build a writing community and make writing and publication an ongoing habit, if you will.
I also think that knowing what works best for you in terms of writing tools is key. For instance, when researching for writing projects I tend to use Google scholar a lot more often than I do other research databases and I’m quick to do this, in searching, finding, downloading, and organizing literature in folders and then scanning articles and pulling what I need from them to incorporate in an introduction or literature review section.
How did you improve your academic writing skills?
Mostly by just reading and writing regularly and getting feedback from colleagues in writing groups. I often feel I’m not as avid as a reader as other colleagues I know, but I try my best to keep up with my research areas of interest.
Who are some writers you particularly admire, and what about their writing seems most admirable to you?
I admire writers and work that reflects a more culturally authentic style and aims to change oppressive structures we have within academia and education; emancipatory work is the most admirable to me. The work of Anzaldúa, Delgado Bernal, Yosso, Solorzano, hooks, Crenshaw, Ladson-Billings, Valenzuela, Villenas, to name a few. It is often interdisciplinary work done by BIPOC.
What advice would you give to fellow writers (Make this concrete. i.e.: Read widely – what does that look like in practice? How does that benefit the process? What should the writer be looking for when reading?)
Be strategic and purposeful with your time, including what you read and what you focus on when writing. If you’re an avid and fast reader and read anything and everything you can, then more power to you. However, I know I am pressed for time, as most faculty are. And I’m not a speed reader, but I am strategic about reading, skimming literature and studies, focused on what I’m looking for in relation to my own research. Similarly, when I write, I chunk a manuscript or project out and don’t anticipate writing a whole manuscript in one day or even one week. I take a section at a time, and usually begin with an intro, some lit and some methods. I try not to let too much time go between working on one part of a project and another part.
Check out Dr. Martinez recent co-authored book’s Latinas Leading Schools and Latino Educational Leadership: Serving Latino Communities and Preparing Latinx Leaders Across the P-20 Pipeline.