Saturday, April 10, 2010

Detour - time to write a paper

Holding back from blogging because I've got some other writing to do. I'm scheduled to present a "paper" at a meeting April 23.

Look at this paragraph sitting waaaaay too close to the top of the promotional flier:
Marti Smith is a Denver-based mission mobilizer for the mission agency Pioneers. She has trained dozens of short-term teams sent to unreached communities around the world to do ethnographic interviewing, asking open-ended, descriptive questions that invite people to teach them to see the world from their point of view. She will be presenting on the topic, "Listening as a Ministry: Empower Others by Listening Before Speaking."
Although I've taught what I see as my core material any number of times, I haven't prepared this particular presentation. Not yet.

If it were really just a presentation, no problem.

But the idea, here, is to "present a paper." If you move in academic circles very much that may seem to make sense, to be natural. But it's not my usual approach to studying and communicating things... "writing a paper" seems a stilted, unnecessary thing, compared to the act of preparing a presentation, or writing something more like a feature article.

If it sounds like I have an anti-academic bias.... well, yeah. But mostly I just feel insecure because I never went back to school. That I don't know what I'm doing, maybe.

I think I have it in me to write this paper. But I recently learned that in order to be considered for the national conference in September, the papers are due earlier: April 15. And today is - well, close, eh?

I'm planning to build it around some things I've posted here and taught in various situations over the last couple years and add in some examples from recent ethnography team reports. It's not smack-dab in the middle of this year's theme, but I think I can make it fit. The trick will to be able to make this stuff look academically credible instead of merely practical.
"We are looking for papers that (1) provide in‐depth analysis and reflection on significant diversity issues facing evangelical missionaries and that (2) document ways that evangelical missionaries are or are not attending to and coping with the challenges of diversity in mission work today."
This is a good year for me, because they're more interested in field research than book research:
"Case studies are welcome, as are research‐ and survey‐based papers. Especially desirable are studies that build upon field‐based research or in‐field missionary experience. Presenters are urged to grapple with actual issues faced by missionaries in the field and by mission agencies in carrying out their role."
The instructions also add:
"Papers should run 4,500 to 7,000 words in length, including endnotes or reference list. They should be formatted in accord with the Chicago Manual of Style. The papers need to interact with current relevant literature. Documentation needs to be complete, utilizing either endnotes or CMS’s author‐date style, whichever fits best with the paper’s subject matter."
Also, between lovely sabbatical activities like going for walks, reading novels, and trying out new recipes, I'm working on another writing/editing project - the devotional I mentioned earlier. It's coming along. Currently standing at 28,000 words. To put that in perspective, the 30-day prayer guides we've published over the years run about 10,000 words, the last ethnographic report I worked on came out at 19,000 words, and Through Her Eyes was about 70,000 words.

So, length-wise, writing a paper next week that's about 5000 words seems do-able. But writing one that's good enough to be presented at the annual conference and published, afterward, is a bit of a stretch, isn't it? So here's my plan:

1. Prepare for the April 23 presentation much as I would for giving a lecture, basing it on ones I've already given. I love this stuff, I know it works, and I've seen the lights come on in people's eyes when I present it. Even if it's not up to snuff to make it in an academic journal/volume, presenting it to an academic-minded audience should help me see ways it can be improved.

2. If there's time, I will take my verbatim-style lecture notes and start cleaning them up, formalizing the language a bit, adding in those pesky footnotes and the "interaction with the current relevant literature" that 90% of my [usual] audiences would only find stuffy but that I have to admit, would help. If there isn't time, or this doesn't happen before April 15, fine; nobody's making me submit this to the national committee. Perhaps someone else will be able to publish it down the road.


Paul Merrill said...

May God bless that entry!

Marti said...

Thank, you, Paul: this is a great opportunity to explore/practice what it means to rely on God for inspiration, direction, clarity, peace... (bring it on!)