sarahpessin@sarahpessin.com

Masket on writing

Seth Masket

Seth Masket is professor of political science and director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver. He is the author of the book Learning From Loss: The Democrats 2016-2020 (Cambridge University Press, 2020); The Inevitable Party: Why Attempts to Kill the Party System Fail and How They Weaken Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2016) and No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures (University of Michigan Press, 2009). His research has appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, the British Journal of Political Science, the State Politics and Policy Quarterly, and other publications. He also contributes regularly to FiveThirtyEight, the Los Angeles Times, and the Mischiefs of Faction blog, and his work has appeared at the Monkey Cage, on Politico, and in the New York Times.

  • What kinds of writing do you write?
    • Academic books on politics, a textbook, articles, blog posts, op/eds, lots and lots of tweets.
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  • What’s one of your favorite things you’ve written, and why?
    • I feel really good about my most recent book, Learning From Loss: The Democrats 2016-2020. It was an intense research and writing process done across three years. It was a blend of qualitative and quantitative research, including lots of travel and interviews that I just didn’t have the resources to pull off earlier in my career. And I managed to keep it on schedule so that I could write about the primaries and caucuses of early 2020 and still get it out before the November election. I honestly don’t know if it was my best book, but it was my favorite to research and write. 
  • What’s something you wrestle with in your writing process?
    • Putting the first words on a blank sheet of paper remains the most challenging part. I’ve written a lot over the years but that’s always a small moment of terror that must be overcome.
  • How would you describe your writing process?
    • I try to do some rudimentary outlining, but honestly I find it most helpful to just spill out everything I want to say and then fix it later with lots and lots of editing. The drafting part usually comes fairly easily to me, and I find that I think best when I’m typing. It’s the editing part that requires the really hard work. Deleting my own sentences is reliably painful but also absolutely necessary.
  • “Hardware” tell-all; for example: Microsoft Word or Google Docs or paper forever? Legal pads or note cards or backs of envelopes? Pencils or pens? No. 2s or mechanical? Bics or Montblancs? Etc.!
    1. I’ve been writing in MS Word for thirty years and am not about to stop. I occasionally work in Google Docs for short pieces or collaborative work. Zotero is wonderful for organizing citations. I’ve found NVivo very helpful for organizing my evidence, including interview transcripts, articles, notes, etc.
  • A standout feature of your actual desk or virtual desktop that you rather like?
    • I have a turntable next to my desk. I don’t always listen to music when I write, but one album side can be really nice at times.
  • 3 adjectives that describe that ‘writerly feeling’ when you’re in the zone?
    • Energized, intense, endorphiny (if that’s a word)
  • 3 adjectives that describe that ‘not so writerly feeling’ when you’re hitting a wall?
    • Frustrated, pained, head-desk-hitty (if that’s a word)
  • What is your Writing Animal Guide (whatever that means to you!) and why?
    • The platypus. I write for multiple audiences, sometimes acting more like a journalist, sometimes more like a scholar, sometimes more like an educator, etc. I feel I’m at my strongest when I’m a blend of creatures, much as a platypus is a mashup of a duck and a beaver.
  • What’s your top piece of writing advice for grad students embarking on their dissertations?
    • You know more about your topic than anyone on the planet. Write with that confidence. Also, as daunting as writing a dissertation is, there are unique benefits that come along with it. You will never again have this amount of time to focus on one project, nor this many people willing to look over drafts and give you feedback. Take advantage of this. Despite how lonely it may feel at times, it takes a village to write a dissertation. It’s okay to spend some time in that village.
[My collagic nod to Seth’s childhood love of Intellivision’s “Utopia” (look it up!). And he likes skiing. And: Platypi. My work here is done]