The question I was asked the most at this year's Kalamazoo medieval conference had nothing to do with research projects, blogs, or bungee cord chairs. Though I did receive the occasional interrogative on each of these topics, the question posed to me most frequently was "How do you get so much done?"
First, I should say that I don't think that I get much more done than most other academics at their career midpoint, at least not those who have been fortunate enough to land a position at a research institution. I just have a way of publicizing these projects ad infinitum, making me seem more prolific than I am.
I've written three monographs (Of Giants; Medieval Identity Machines; Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain), edited or co-edited five volumes (Thinking the Limits of the Body; The Postcolonial Middle Ages; Becoming Male in the Middle Ages; Monster Theory: Reading Culture; and the in-progress Cultural Diversity in Medieval Britain: Archipelago, Island, England). I've done maybe 15 journal articles and essays for collections, and maybe that many reviews and encyclopedia entries. But I've been a licensed medievalist since 1992 (the year in which I suspect many of this blog's readers were born). During that fifteen years -- thirteen of which have been in a tenure track and then tenured job -- I have had two and a half years of leave time, a combination of sabbatical, "special" release time as a junior faculty member to work on my book, and a year funded via a generous ACLS fellowship. I also have the good fortune of a reasonable teaching load; I can accomplish some research and writing during the semesters when I have had a full teaching schedule. And because we have a graduate program here, I've often been able to teach topics that I'm in the midst of researching, giving my work both a boost and a captive, catalytic audience of enthusiasts.
That's a long way of saying that I am quite aware that I've had more time available to me for research and writing than many of my friends and colleagues in the profession have been able to enjoy. The gift of time obviously makes a substantial difference to fostering productivity. It also, I should add, has allowed for a fairly well adjusted family life.
I am not a scholar who will one day be famous for having squinted at a line of the Domesday Book for two decades and then having coming up with THE brilliant essay upon animal husbandry and diseases of cattle in Suffolk. Likewise, some scholars linger over every word as it appears upon their screen, an agony of mental thesaurusizing to find le mot juste. Not me. I very much enjoy writing, finding that it liberates a surprising amount of pent-up energy. I often compose in my head long before I arrive at my laptop, so many a memorized sentence is bustling to escape. Like New Yorkers off a subway, in fact. I can't really type, so that rush hour of verbosity really does put my fingers in a tangle. Premeditation also makes for fairly swift composition, at least when I'm not simultaneously trying to translate Latin or work out the status of humanism as I'm composing. I'm also someone who keeps a very tight schedule. I hardly ever take a weekday off, and work steadily from early in the day into the afternoon so that by the time the kids are ready to be picked up I don't have to do much more than check my email to make sure the department office isn't on fire.
Another trick I use to compel composition is to agree to frequent conference panels and public lectures, especially ones in which I cannot deliver some talk I've given already. This strategy doesn't work so well now that I am department chair; I simply can't travel as much as I used to. Then again, another trick I've used in the past is serving me well right now: to initiate a new research project or jump start a languishing one, put together an edited collection or journal cluster on the topic. I'm too much of a perfectionist to miss deadlines, so this particular motivator to publication has worked well.
In the back of my mind, though, I fear that my work will be seen as thin or rushed just because it might seem like there has been a lot of it in a little time (an illusion I hope I just dispelled; time is the reason there has been such work). It was a little disconcerting to me, for example, to see in a very positive review of Hybridity, Identity, and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain in the Times Literary Supplement that "Given the author's and series' prolific output, it is understandable but none the less unfortunate that this book has the marks of a rushed job" (citing reliance on secondary sources and my own previous work, as well as poor editing; personally I'd disagree with the first two, but would have to agree with the third -- the copy editing process was a nightmare, and minor but aesthetically displeasing mistakes remained when the book went to print). For the record, I'd been at work on the book since c.1999 (the Gerald of Wales chapter, for example, appeared in The Postcolonial Middle Ages). The ACLS fellowship I mentioned previously gave me a year without teaching or administrative responsibilities to labor on its pages, and that year was quickly followed by a semester of sabbatical. I actually had so much time that I put the book through several versions (remember the fabulations?) and wrote an extra half of the book that I had to cull.
A long answer to a short query, I know. And what I didn't admit is that while I was composing this blog post with my left hand, my right hand was typing away at my second laptop. I just finished two scholarly essays and a book review.