I had been on a good run recently. I had a couple of articles accepted on material I am strong on, stuff that was an extension of the work I did for my PhD and for my first book. I had been asked to do two radio interviews on suburban modernity. So it was with some eager anticipation that I opened an email from a journal editor to whom I had sent a prospective article. It was a rejection. A bit of surprise, but it shouldn’t have been. I know that rejection is statistically far more likely than acceptance, but I had got used to the idea of succeeding. This particular article was in a new, but cognate, field from my previous work and with this result I was forced to learn again some lessons that I already knew.
The first of these was the danger of unconsciousness ignorance. In my field, I mostly know what I don’t know and can carry out whatever extra research is needed to fill the gaps. If I have missed something, the referees will tell me. It turned out that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Secondly, I had become complacent, thinking that if I was capable in one field (which took ten years to master) then I would be successful in anything else I was interested in.
Thirdly, I fell in love with my research. This is something I was warned about many years ago, and in turn, I warn students of today. My research was so intriguing that I failed to place it into its historiography in a convincing way.
I read somewhere that if you keep getting your articles accepted then you are not trying hard enough, meaning you have to keep pushing the boundaries. It turned out that I wasn’t trying hard enough in a different way. After a bit of sulking, I got engaged with the topic again and was quite excited to learn from my referees that I had a lot of new reading to do and new ideas to absorb and that, if I did that, then I had the possibility of producing something worthwhile and different.