How I Write: James Ramsey — University President
Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.
This week we are pleased to feature James Ramsey, president of the University of Louisville. Before assuming UofL’s top post, he served as senior policy adviser and state budget director for Kentucky and senior professor of economics and public policy at UofL. He has served as vice chancellor for finance and administration at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Western Kentucky University. He has been associate dean, assistant dean and director of public administration in the College of Business Administration at Loyola University and research associate for the University of Kentucky’s Center for Public Affairs. Dr. Ramsey is a tenured professor of economics.
A frequent national speaker and writer on economic issues in the public sector, Ramsey has received a number of honors and awards including the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award in 2012, Greater Louisville Inc.’s Silver Fleur-De-Lis Award in 2011, Louisville Advertising Federation’s Louisvillian of the Year Award in 2010, Western Kentucky University Distinguish Alumni Hall of Fame in 2010, Louisville Defender Outstanding Community Service Award in 2010, Business First Business Leader of the Year in 2007, University of Kentucky College of Business and Economics Alumni Hall of Fame in 2004, the Governor’s Association’s Outstanding Public Service Award in 2001, Kentucky’s Distinguished Economist of the Year in 1999 and the Fern Creek High School Hall of Fame in 1998.
How I Write: James Ramsey
- What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
At this point in my professional career, most of my writing is of a professional nature:
a. Communications to various members of the university family including Board of Trustees, Board of Overseers, University of Louisville Foundation, Alumni, etc.; Legislators and public policy makers; Donors;
b. Policy papers;
c. I still try to do a bi-monthly newsletter to several different groups, both university and non-university, on the state economy and the state’s economic outlook.
- When/where/how do you write?
I need silence to write. While I can close the door to my office, there are always interruptions, either in person or telephone. Also, there is the constant allure of checking the latest e-mails, etc. I do most of my writing in the car. At an earlier point in my life, my family and I lived 2-1/2 hours from my place of work. While I would generally leave home early on a Monday morning, I would try to come back one or two nights during the week for our kids’ school events and then home on the weekend. The point is, I had a lot of time in the car and I became accustomed to dictating all kinds of communications from responses to e-mails, letters, and in some cases professional economics papers. I continue that practice. My home is 20 or so miles from the office so I can often dictate 15 or 20 minutes coming in to work – I’m actually dictating my answers to these questions now as I am on a trip out of town and will be in the car for 3 hours.
My best time to write is early in the morning – fresh, brain working (late afternoon/evening – brain dead).
- What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
When I am writing and not dictating I need a yellow pad and a number of pencils with erasers. I rarely type other than short cryptic answers – not very proficient at typing.
- What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
It depends to some degree on the type of communication but generally I will first think through key messages to convey or points I want to make. I jot those down and identify data sources or research needed to support the points to make. I generally have an outline, very topical but from beginning to end and I try to work through it to ensure that my writing has a logical consistency and flow. Depending on the type of communication I frequently go through multiple revisions; I struggle over almost every word and go back and forth. In fact, at some point I generally have to say enough is enough or, more realistically, I reach a deadline and the 18th draft, for example, becomes the final version. I like to have others read my writing that will be presented or communicated to larger groups for a) typos, spelling, grammar; and b) logical consistency.
- What is the best writing advice you’ve received:
a. Try not to use any words that are not needed;
b. Have others proofread;
c. Develop an outline with themes that you are trying to communicate.
Finally, I would love to write a book sometime – not about my profession of economics or higher education administration (I’ve done special chapters for books, etc.) but rather a book that deals with real world experiences. On two different occasions I have started dictating ideas – one was based on a dog we had for 15 years, telling our family story from her perspective. The last several years of the dog’s life she was deaf so I thought I’d call it, “I Saw It All … And Heard Some Of It.” There wasn’t anything particularly amazing that happened in our lives and that’s why I probably never pursued the project – rather the dog would relate family experiences, especially difficult situations like death, tragedy, etc. but from the dog’s perspective. At one time I thought I would have someone transcribe all this to see how bad it was but …