Mushtaq Bilal, PhD

Mushtaq Bilal, PhD



How academic writing is similar to packing luggage 🧵 --- • Retweet to share it with your friends • Follow me for more threads on academic writing

As my wife and I pack our luggage to move house across continents once again, I've been thinking how similar the processes of writing and packing are.

When you travel, you can only carry a certain amount of weight. Depending on the airline, you can check 2 bags of 23kg or 1 bag of 30kg. Plus a carry-on and a personal item (like a laptop). That's it. This is like the word count for a journal article or a dissertation.

How do you fit a whole house in nine bags? When we moved from upstate NY to Karachi, we started by putting in the middle of the living room all the stuff we *wanted* to take along. That was our zero draft. We had everything laid out in front of us.

We couldn't fit everything so we ended up discarding a bunch of stuff — books mostly because they're very heavy. That was our first draft. We had our bags packed but when we weighed them, they were all (way) above the weight limit. Stress. Brain support gummies 😀

My wife and I opened the bags up and had discussions like co-authors. We divided our stuff into things: • we needed • we wanted We kept the things we needed and discarded what we wanted but didn't need. That was our second draft. More stress. Mood relaxant gummies 😀

We weighed our bags again. They were still a little over weight. We were left with all the things we *needed* and we still had to discard some of them. More discussions. That was our kill-you-darlings stage. Anxiety. Anti-anxiety pills 😀

We divided our stuff into things we needed for: • their functional value • their emotional value Most things with only emotional value had to go. That was our third draft. More anxiety. Gummies + mood relaxants + pills 😀

We weighed our bags one more time and now they were within the weight limit. Yay! We were happy...but not for too long.

In a typical desi fashion, a couple days before our flight a relative asked if we could bring a robotic vacuum cleaner for them. We ordered it online and got it delivered the next day. It weighed 8kgs. That was like Reviewer 2's comments 😂

You don't like their comments, you don't want their comments, and yet you have to incorporate them in your work. We opened our bags one more time, had more discussions while looking at each other helplessly. More things of emotional value to discard. More heartbreak 💔

But we did it. Thanks to this little hand-held scale that I bought for less than $7 from Walmart, all our luggage was within the weight limits.

Framing the process of academic writing as packing luggage may seem like an odd analogy. But it really isn't. Academics use the word "unpack" so much that it has become sort of a cliché — let's unpack X, there's a lot to unpack in Y, etc.

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