To this continuing series on “Pro Tips for Busy Writers,” I’m pleased to welcome Jason Maston, Assistant Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University.
Along with Ben Blackwell and John Goodrich, Jason co-edited the newly released Reading Revelation in Context: John and Second Temple Judaism (Zondervan). In addition, Jason has co-edited another five volumes.
Jason’s other publications include Divine and Human Agency in Second Temple Judaism and Paul: A Comparative Approach (Mohr Siebeck, 2010) and a number of scholarly articles.
By this point in your career, you’ve likely worked on several writing projects concurrently (e.g., articles, books). What’s a memorable example of a cluster of projects you worked on concurrently?
2014–2016 was a busy time with the publication of Reading Romans in Context and Paul and the Apocalyptic Imagination, and Reading Mark in Context and Anthropology and New Testament Theology were well underway.
I was also working on a couple of articles and moved countries in December 2014 to start a new job. Keeping up with all the contributors and publishers was difficult, but each of these projects was meaningful to me.
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?
Honestly, I’ve not done well here since I’ve not yet gotten a second monograph. In terms of publishing most of my energy has been on edited volumes and articles. At the same time, throughout my career I’ve had a heavy teaching load and significant administrative duties.
I do try to overlap projects when possible. If you are presenting somewhere, make it align with your current major work.
Don’t spend much time on book reviews, unless it is a serious critical review. Hiring committees are more interested in one serious article than ten book reviews. If you are doing reviews, only do them on books directly related to your current work or on books that you know will be relevant to you at some point.
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?
I try to coordinate projects with my teaching schedule. If I can teach on something I’m researching, then it saves me time and energy.
When I’m really busy with deadlines, I keep a schedule of due dates and set a schedule for when I want to have something completed.
I also try to get more than one publication out of a topic. For example I wrote several pieces on Pauline anthropology, one of which was put in Anthropology and New Testament Theology.
Do you divide your process between research and writing? If so, how?
The balance between research and writing is partially determined by how much I know about a topic.
If I’m working on something new (like my contribution to Reading Revelation in Context), then I will read some commentaries and articles to get a feel for the issues. I then sketch out what I think I want to argue. If I’m working on something familiar, then I start writing almost immediately.
For me, writing is necessary almost from the start of any project. It’s only when I begin to put words on paper that my thoughts start to come together. I then see the gaps in my own thinking or issues that I don’t think others have resolved.
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?
Two thoughts come to mind here. First, I think one should only publish when there is a clear benefit to the academy or some other audience (e.g., students or the church). Not everything needs to be published, and I try to only publish things that are worthwhile (I’ll leave it to others to judge if I’ve been successful with this).
Second, I’m selfish with my publications. I don’t accept every offer that I get. When considering a project, I ask questions such as these: how will it help me personally (e.g., in my understanding of some topic, in my career)? If the project is not in my normal area, how much time will it take from me? How widely received will the publication be?
When working on multiple projects concurrently, what tools do you use (e.g., filing systems, project management tools, apps)?
I’m a huge fan of Zotero for all bibliography stuff. I don’t see any reason for making footnotes when Zotero will do it for me. There are other bibliography systems, but Zotero is free and links nicely with Word.
What are two or more projects you’re particularly excited about that you’re now working on concurrently?
I’m an associate editor for a new series in New Testament Theology being published by Cambridge University Press.
The previous series edited by James Dunn served the previous generation of scholarship admirably. However several of the volumes are now outdated.
Under the guidance of John Barclay, and along with Ben Blackwell and John Goodrich, we are issuing 19 new volumes over the next five years. I’m writing the volume on 1 Peter.
I’m also working on the way that Psalm 8 is interpreted in Hebrews. My goal is a short monograph.
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?
Be realistic. Many of us work at institutions that focus primarily on teaching, and administrative tasks are always increasing. A major monograph may not be possible as one adjusts to teaching new preps and completes administrative duties. Don’t compare yourself to others who may not have the same tasks as you.
Write for yourself. Every project should have some benefit for you.
Write what matters. Don’t assume that every thought you have needs to be published. Some of the best scholars in the world have only produced a few monographs over their careers. But these monographs are groundbreaking. They are the ones still read 30 years after their publication.
What’s your biggest takeaway from this interview?
Header image provided by Freddie Marriage via Unsplash