In our series on “Pro Tips for Busy Writers,” we’re hearing first from Nijay Gupta.
Nijay has authored or edited several volumes and articles. He has also published a guide for incoming students and new PhDs in biblical studies. This has proven helpful enough so that it is now being released in a second edition with “several updates and new sections.”
Nijay is the incoming general editor of the Bulletin for Biblical Research and has quite a robust slate of “forthcoming” and “under contract” publications on his docket. In addition to all this, Nijay blogs regularly with Chris Skinner at Crux Sola.
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?
A few years ago, I was invited to write a non-technical commentary on 1–2 Thessalonians as well as an advanced guide to academic scholarship on 1–2 Thessalonians. It was helpful ahead of time to set myself up to work on both and let one inform the other. I was also writing a monograph on Paul and a textbook.
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 have a detailed weekly and daily schedule where I have firm blocks of research build in. As much as I can control it, I plan out which projects get which blocks of time—if I stick to that (fingers crossed), nothing gets neglected. That method has worked well for me over the past several years.
Also, as much as possible, I try to overlap the content of smaller projects with larger ones, so I “double-dip” on the research. So, if I am writing a commentary, I try to do speaking engagements or papers related to that biblical book.
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?
The most helpful thing for me is to map out my weekly time (over a period of several months or a year), so that I can plan ample time for each item. And then I have to stick to it! But I intentionally give a project “extra time” in my schedule to allow wiggle room in case I get sick, extra busy with other things, or hit a research snag.
I also try to write on subjects I naturally teach, and I try to teach courses that align with my research interests. So, for example, if your area is Hebrews, give yourself the freedom to spend 5 weeks on Hebrews in your Introduction to the New Testament course. Sometimes, faculty feel this is wrong, but my experience is that students love when faculty bring their passions and their fresh research to the classroom. So, don’t exhaust yourself, but find ways to bring the different areas of your vocation together for research synergy!
When working on multiple projects concurrently, what tools do you use (e.g., filing systems, project management tools, apps)?
I’ve settled into a good routine with apps. I have a master Google Doc with a bird’s eye schedule of my future writing projects. This helps me to see deadlines clearly. I also have separate documents that show a year’s planning of research, another for a semester, and another for a month.
I use Google Drive folders to store data, especially PDFs of important articles, scans of essays, etc. I have a master research Google Doc for each project I am working on. This is where I put my notes for the project. Then I have another document for the writing itself. This document will become to final essay or book.
I use Google Keep as a kind of “short term memory” where I will jot down quick thoughts on various issues when I am out and about and have an idea or two.
Currently I use BibleWorks for intensive research involving the biblical languages. I use Logos primarily for commentaries and dictionaries.
How has your approach to concurrent writing projects changed over time?
I am now at the point where I am re-using some bibliographic items for new projects that I used for older ones. So it is now more important that I have a good organization system for article and essay PDFs I have stored. I also take meticulous notes from ILL resources and books so I don’t have to re-read books. I wish I had thought about these things a decade ago!
What are two or more projects you’re particularly excited about that you’re now working on concurrently?
Right now, I am working on a monograph on Paul’s theology focusing on his language of love (Eerdmans). That will occupy my time for 2–3 more years. Also, I am writing a commentary on Galatians (Zondervan). I have completed the research, so now I am just writing. I am writing a few articles for the second edition of the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (InterVarsity Press), and I am writing a short New Testament theology for Zondervan.
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?
I’d mention a few other pieces of advice. First, don’t overcommit. It stresses you out as a writer, and it reflects negatively on you to the publisher if you delay too long. Don’t stress yourself out over publishing so much that you neglect your health, your family, and your ministry time (or charity work, if you are not interested in ministry).
Second, quality is far more important than quantity. Always have a few academics you trust read your work and give you feedback before you send it to the publisher.
Then, only publish with trusted presses and periodicals. Why waste all your time and energy for a piece of scholarship that is going to collect dust on a shelf or is buried somewhere on the internet?
Similarly, don’t self-publish. In all instances I can think of, if you can’t find a legitimate press wanting to publish your great idea, it might not be a great idea. Keep sharpening, grow as a professional, and keep trying to get it published with a good press.
Third, don’t write things that you are not passionate about. If it is just “CV” filler, skip it. Research and writing is your time, and time is the most precious commodity we have to spend. Use it wisely.
Lastly—this one is just something I’ve done, but it motivates me—make an academic bucket list. I have set 6–10 things I want to accomplish in my career. It helps me focus, and I get excited at the opportunity to push myself. I get offers to write a book or commentary sometimes, and now I check with the bucket list to help me stay focused.
What’s your single biggest takeaway from this interview?
Header image provided by Freddie Marriage via Unsplash