Pro Tips for Busy Writers: David DeSilva

David DeSilva headshotTo the series “Pro Tips for Busy Writers,” I’m pleased to welcome David DeSilva.

David is the Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary.

David has published or in press more than 15 academic books and another 13 for popular audiences. Beyond this, he has contributed upwards of 50 articles and essays to journals and edited volumes.

For more about David, see his personal website.

Larger projects (e.g., a dissertation, a second monograph) can be more important but less urgent than others (e.g., conference papers, book reviews). How do you avoid letting good-but-less-important projects push out or cause you to procrastinate on those that are more important but less urgent?

I’m personally not very good at this, but the key is, first, to say “no” to conference papers, invitations to contribute essays, and especially to book reviews (and usually invitations to respond to questionnaires that aren’t about one of my projects!).

[Given this principle, my special thanks to David for his decision not to say “no” to participating in this interview! 🙂 ]

I think I’ve done five book reviews in the last decade. When I do think about conference papers or essay invitations, I try to make sure they are in line with my current (or anticipated) project so that my head keeps swimming in the same pool.

When you’ve worked on multiple projects concurrently, what processes, principles, or practices have you used to be sure you’re making good progress on all fronts?

To be honest, I don’t really work on projects concurrently. If necessary, I set the one aside and get the other done, then return to the first one.

I find immersion to be the best way for me to make progress on something.

Do you divide your process between research and writing? If so, how?

Yes, I tend to try to do the bulk of the research first, take a plenitude of notes, and shape them into the orderly progression that will become the article or book.

Of course, new questions arise in the course of the actual writing. But those tend to be rather specific things that I had not anticipated having to dig into and don’t stall the writing process too much.

What do you do to help you avoid overcommitting yourself either on timelines that are too short for their projects or on how many projects you take on? How do you avoid undercommitting?

Undercommitting has just never been a danger for me. I’ve used those rare occasions when I’ve had free time between projects to be creative in other ways, like composing anthems or arranging organ music for my church work.

I have a serious problem with overcommitting, and I’ll simply say that it’s better to err on the side of undercommitting—and having some good free time for other interests or just for the tasks of home ownership and yard maintenance!—than on the side of overcommitting.

The Hebrew Bible image for enjoying covenant blessings was sitting under one’s vines and trees, not incessantly working on them.

When working on multiple projects concurrently, what tools do you use (e.g., filing systems, project management tools, apps)?

When I can’t avoid working on multiple projects in the same time frame, I tend to compartmentalize and devote, say, Monday and Tuesday to the one and Thursday and Saturday to the other (before our kids were grown, however, Saturdays were sacred to playing!). That way, I can keep my focus in one place at a time.

But in these cases, they’ve also been significantly different kinds of projects, e.g., working on the Greek handbook on Galatians (so a lot of very technical and not-so-creative work) alongside writing my novel, Day of Atonement.

Organization is, of course, essential. I’ve never used “project management tools.” I just put all the physical books I need for one project on one group of shelves and those for the other on another group of shelves. I divide all my notes and drafts into appropriate folders on my computer desktop.

How has your approach to concurrent writing projects changed over time?

I have accepted my tunnel-vision approach and try not to work against myself.

What are two or more projects you’re particularly excited about that you’re now working on concurrently?

I’m excited not to be working on two or more projects concurrently!

What closing advice (if any) would you offer to (post-)graduate students and new faculty as they try to become comfortable and competent for themselves in making progress concurrently on multiple writing projects?

Publish articles and present papers on the way to completing larger monographs. If there are key new works that you must engage to do your own research, target those (and only those) for book reviews. (This is essentially advice not to get involved in concurrent projects, but to get the most out of a single project.)

Don’t stress yourself out about the quality of what you’re writing. Just keep working at the level at which you were working as you successfully completed your dissertation.

What you did once, you can do again—and again. Your skills will naturally grow with use and exercise, particularly as you keep engaging the research of your peers.

What’s your biggest take away from this interview?

Header image provided by Freddie Marriage via Unsplash

Daily Gleanings: Updates (6 January 2020)

Thanks so much to all of you who took the time to complete my 2019 reader survey.

Your feedback is immensely valuable. I’ll definitely be revisiting it as I continue planning content for 2020.

Daily Gleanings

For the moment, I especially wanted to update you on the Daily Gleanings series.

Several of you both in the survey and outside it mentioned the value you’ve been getting from this series. I’m very grateful you’ve found it so helpful, and I appreciate your encouragement about it.

I’ve been finding the content in that series very helpful myself too. So I do want to continue covering this content, but I am going to experiment some more with its format this month (and perhaps beyond).

Upcoming Experiments

You’ll still get the larger blog article first thing every Monday. But in this experiment, I won’t publish the additional five posts each week that have been specifically titled “Daily Gleanings.”

Instead, I’ll try treating the content this series has covered in other ways.

For instance, some of the content in the Daily Gleanings series, I’d like to treat more fully and helpfully. So this will get “promoted” into larger article-type posts.

Other Daily Gleanings-type content will likely be more helpful if its organized more closely than a series of short blog posts will allow.

For example, rather than separate posts on related open access resources spread out over a number of weeks, I might batch those related resources and comments on them together in a downloadable PDF.

Conclusion

I’m grateful that the content in the Daily Gleanings series has been so helpful. It’s been very useful to me too both in the writing of it and in having this content available for later.

I’m looking forward to experimenting with new ways of formatting this content. And of course, I welcome your comments and input as this experiment develops.

Besides in other posts or downloadable PDFs, what other formats might you find helpful for receiving Daily Gleanings-type content in the future?

5 Reasons You Should Read Your Bible

Whatever else it is, biblical studies is about the Bible.

A lot of academic biblical studies has to do with learning to think critically. It has to do with bringing preconceptions into question and making judgments like historians. It has to do with looking closely at the text.

This work is good and important. Nothing can substitute for giving detailed, careful attention to a particular book, a given passage, or even a single verse.

But with this also comes the danger of paying so much attention to the individual trees that we lose sight of the forest. We risk increasing our knowledge of a small slice of the Bible at the cost of increasing unfamiliarity with other parts.

To counteract this, I’d like to suggest five reasons emerging biblical scholars should cultivate a regular habit of Bible reading.

The first two apply whatever language you’re reading in. The last three focus specifically on benefits from reading in the original languages.

1. To remind yourself that your Bible is Scripture.

True, not all biblical scholars would claim membership in a particular faith community—especially one they see as relevant to their scholarship. But biblical scholarship has coherence as a discipline only because of the faith communities within which biblical texts emerged.

In practice, “Bible” might mean quite a lot of different things. It might be a “Hebrew Bible” without a New Testament. It might be a “New American Standard Bible” with a New Testament but not an apocrypha. Or it might be a “New Jerusalem Bible” with both a New Testament and an apocrypha.

1For further discussion, see my “Rewriting Prophets in the Corinthian Correspondence: A Window on Paul’s Hermeneutic,” BBR 22.2 (2012): 226–27.

But whatever its specific content, to speak of a “Bible” as such inevitably requires reckoning with the fact that this text has been deeply embedded in the faith and practice of the communities that have cherished it.

And for those of us who come to the text from one of these communities, reading the text can help remind us to cherish it—whatever else we do with it analytically or critically.

2. To see things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.

All of us specialists in any given book or corpus have a very real tendency toward functional ignorance of other books and corpora.

The focus involved in specialization is logical. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of not knowing other primary literature that might be very relevant to whatever we’re working on.

For instance, while Luke and Paul shouldn’t be confused, they are at least both very early witnesses to the faith, practice, and memory of the Jesus movement. So texts like these might just have as much to say about each other as would Josephus or Philo.

As with these other sources, therefore, we might shortchange or enrich our reading of Paul by our ignorance or familiarity with Luke (and vice versa). But we won’t know what we won’t know, so it’s helpful to read widely across the biblical text.

3. To sharpen your languages.

When you read the biblical text in its ancient languages, you can practice and sharpen your ability to work with these languages.

You’ll develop a better feel for the languages by experiencing them first hand rather than only reading about them in a grammar. (But grammars do, of course, make very profitable reading of their own too. 🙂 )

You might even want to take the opportunity to practice your pronunciation by reading the text aloud in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.

Don’t worry if it sounds bad or halting. As a child, that roughness was part of your learning process for your first language. It will be here too.

4. To see things you won’t in translation.

To communicate some things in whatever language, translators inevitably have to obscure others. This fact is wonderfully encapsulated in the Italian proverb “traduttore traditore​”—”a translator is a traitor.”2For making me aware of this proverb, I’m grateful to Moisés Silva.

From an English translation, you might well learn about a time when a ruler of Egypt dreamed about cows. But English simply isn’t able to communicate the humorous irony involved in having פרעה (paroh) dream about פרות (paroth; Gen 41:1–2).

Many translations do a great job with rendering the core of what a passage communicates. But for getting at the fine details both within and across passages, there’s no substitute for reading the original text.

5. To learn vocabulary.

When you learn biblical languages, you learn a certain amount of vocabulary that occurs frequently. But even with this under your belt, there is still a huge amount of vocabulary you don’t know.

Continuing to drill larger sets of vocabulary cards might have a place. On the other hand, you may well remember the language better by seeing and learning new words in context.

You’ll also learn new usages, meanings, and functions for a lot of the vocabulary you thought you knew.

You may have learned a small handful of glosses for a word. But you’ll start to see how that term might have a much wider range of possible meanings than what those glosses might have lead you to suspect.

Want to Join Us?

Unfortunately, the student or professor of biblical studies who doesn’t have a regular discipline of Bible reading is common enough to be somewhat cliché.

If you find yourself in this boat, or even if you don’t but would like to join a reading project with others, I’d like to invite you to join my students and me this term.

Every term, my students and I do a daily Bible reading exercise together. Each day’s readings are quite short—normally only a few verses.

The readings are designed to be short enough to complete in Hebrew or Greek if you’re able without taking too much time out of your day. This way, you have a good way of keeping up with your languages. But the reading plan will work just as well if you use a translation.

If this sounds interesting, we’d love to have you join us. And feel free to revisit this post to comment on interesting things you come across in your reading.

To get started, complete the form below, and indicate you’d like to receive the daily Bible readings. You’ll get an email delivering those to you. Then you’ll be ready to pick up in the biblical text where we are also.

Looking forward to reading with you!

Header image provided by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

Daily Gleanings: Theology (3 January 2020)

Now available from Crossway is Gavin Ordlund’s Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals.

According to the publisher, the volume addresses a “‘me and my Bible’ approach to theology”:

This book aims to set forth a vision for how engaging historical theology can enrich and strengthen the church today—and highlight how it can be done without abandoning a Protestant identity. By addressing two key doctrines—the doctrines of God and the atonement—and drawing from neglected theologians—Boethius, Gregory the Great, and John of Damascus—this book charts a course for evangelicals eager to draw from the past to meet the challenges of the present.

Daily Gleanings: Textual Criticism (2 January 2020)

Now available from Brill is Donald Parry’s treatment of the Dead Sea Isaiah scrolls and their variants.

According to the publisher,

Donald W. Parry systematically presents, on a verse-by-verse basis, the variants of the Hebrew witnesses of Isaiah (the Masoretic Text and the twenty-one Isaiah Dead Sea Scrolls) and briefly discusses why each variant exists…. Variant characterizations include four categories: (a) accidental errors, e.g., dittography, haplography, metathesis, graphic similarity; (b) intentional changes by scribes and copyists; (c) synonymous readings; (d) scribes’ stylistic approaches and conventions.

HT: Jim Davila

Daily Gleanings: Productivity (1 January 2020)

Erik Fisher and Craig Jarrow discuss essential time management tools.

The conversation includes a good deal of helpful material to consider. But perhaps the most helpful segment is the stress on simplicity and contemplation of what kinds of basic tools really are necessary for knowledge work.