Wanted: Writing partner to complement my style

Aileen A number of years ago, my bi-polar partner in the midst of a manic episode took to interviewing our friends for the position of his mentor. They would ring up, and when he answered the phone, he would tell them he was looking for a mentor and ask what qualities could they bring to the position. Some he dismissed out of hand for being too young. It was pretty funny. And also I thought, not such a bad idea.

Ewen and I were discussing what would make the perfect academic writing partner. First on the list obviously it would have to be someone who is interested in the same type of work. That seems simple enough, but sometimes it is easy to fall into research areas, rather than sit back and concretely work out what is it you want to be doing with whatever writing career you have. Secondly you want to be working with someone who is doing the most interesting, most exciting work. This echoes the advice by computer programmer Richard Hamming.

Next you want to find someone who is actually easy to work with. This is tricky – you’re only source of information is trial and bitter error and casual gossip. You could check to see if they actually publish or present papers – that might weed out those who can’t commit to finishing, but it doesn’t tell you much about whether those papers were written in howls of misery or not. Then, you find someone who complements your approach. If you err on the side of the big picture (as I think I do), find someone who is good at the details. Finally, once you have found that person, marry them (I’m thinking of Richard Sennett and Saskia Sassen, or Giovanni Arrighi and Beverly Silver). Follow my simple steps and you have set yourself up for an academic life of perfect happiness.