I worked out how much I've written (in pure word count) during my academic career - the last 10 years - because I have nothing better to do [splutter, splutter] ... sorry, because I thought it might be useful - I'm not sure to who, come to think of it.
Now, I'm only counting things that I have submitted for 'official' publication (whether published or rejected) and have therefore excluded all theses, dissertations etc. and all short pieces, non-academic pieces, book reviews, reports etc. I've also sought to avoid double counting, but writing is a messy business so it's not always easy to do. Anyway, the approximate word counts are as follows:
- Published, sole-authored: 105k
- Published, co-authored:145k
- Rejected, sole authored: 70k
- Rejected, co-authored: 20k
- TOTAL: 340k words
- Yearly average: 34k
- Percentage rejected to accepted:26.5%
So, a few trends.
- It should be obvious to anyone reading this that I have far more sole authored work rejected than co-authored stuff. This would imply that my writing, arguing, structuring, etc. abilities are significantly improved when I write with other people; in this sense, collaboration is incredibly beneficial, especially early on in a career.
- The total amount of rejected material represents about one full paper (i.e. journal article, book chapter) per year on average; 11 full papers in total or one reasonably-sized book. Not all that material was a 'waste' of time (or was 'wasted'); I learnt something from all of it, especially about the expectations of academic publishing.
- Although it is not evident in the above data (for want of a better word for some back-of-the-napkin calculations), my acceptance rate has improved considerably with time, although acceptance is (still) not a sure bet. It would be interesting to know whether getting published is ever a 'sure thing' - anyone?
- I seem to have been writing about 4 full papers a year, which is pretty good productivity in my books; however, of those 4, one usually gets rejected.
What is interesting to me (if no one else) is that the amount I write might simply be the result of an anxiety to write (literally feeling edgy when I haven't written for some time), partly related to competing with others in academia. Obviously this is slightly unhealthy, to say the least, because it illustrates the extent to which I have come to embody particular behaviour as a result of the socialization process I've been through as a young(-ish) academic. This is something I've just co-written about with others in an article for the journal Antipode [plug, plug].