Fear of Publishing

in Articles from our Newsletter

or Just Handing Your Chapter in to Your Advisor… and What to Do About It

You’re almost done with the whole article. You should feel relieved. Instead you feel like you’ve written a bunch of junk.

It’s funny, though. At other times you’ve felt that you’ve written something worthwhile.

Now, however, you feel the urge to read several more articles, add more footnotes, edit it some more, or check your email. Anything but wrap it up and send it in.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a “revise and resubmit” article for a journal or a draft chapter to show to your dissertation advisor. There’s something anxiety-provoking about letting go of your work and putting it out there for the wider world to see.

One very brilliant client of mine told me how she had a similar feeling when she was 9 months pregnant. The baby’s room wasn’t ready, and she had so much more to do. She tried to will herself not to give birth yet. Luckily, her body didn’t cooperate. Now she tries to do the same with journal articles.

This reluctance to release one’s work is so common in academia, that it may well be the norm. In some cases, though, it can become crippling.

Reasons for Reluctance to Release Writing

Here are the kinds of statements that I hear from academics in regards to this issue. Each statement is followed by an alternate way to look at the situation. If you’ve found yourself saying anything like this to yourself, try the alternate way of thinking on for size.

  • Who am I to make that definitive a statement?
    • If not you, then who? What makes someone else an authority and not you? Where and when did the current authorities start having the authority to make their statements?
  • I have an idea, but I can’t find any references to cite that say what I’m thinking.
    • Maybe that’s because it’s an original idea! Sometimes new ideas really are leaps. Run it by some colleagues and see what they think.
  • I’m intimidated by the fact that others have written about my subject for much longer than I have.
    • Sometimes people who are steeped in a subject can’t think about that subject in as clear a light as a newcomer.
    • A new voice is always welcome (and if it isn’t, too bad for them.)
  • My viewpoint doesn’t fit the mental maps of academics in my field, so they will disagree with what I say.
    • Try to welcome disagreement! The best scholarly contributions often incite others to argue vociferously against the new ideas. By generating discussion you’re advancing the field.
    • The critical nature of academia is paralyzing to some. It’s important to realize that academics enjoy thinking and puzzling things out. The “devil’s advocate” approach that looks for holes in your logic is just part of the process. Try not to take that part personally.
    • Remember that some of the most famous theorists, even the ones with scads of data to back them up, invited the most invective. Charles Darwin comes to mind – I’m sure you can think of others.
  • What if I just don’t know what I’m talking about?
    • Then finish the piece, have others read it, and find out! Chances are you’re not completely out of your mind.
  • Everything I’ve written is junk. It doesn’t make any sense to me any more.
    • It’s time to finish the up the part you’re writing, give it a rest, and let someone else look at it. Either fresher eyes or new eyes will help you see it in a new light.
    • If you’re not totally burned out, push past that feeling. Trust the process. As one client said, don’t flip out just when you’re at the cusp of turning it from cream into butter. It seems like nothing is happening, but if you perservere, you will see that you have produced something worthwhile.
  • I can see that it’s not perfectly written. I’m a sham and a charlatan and I don’t deserve to be in this field.
    • It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be good enough.
    • You don’t have to be perfect. If you’ve gotten this far, you ARE good enough. Besides, everyone in academia feels that way every once in a while. (See my self-assessment “Do You Deserve a Ph.D.?“)
    • Looking over already published papers will remind you that imperfect writing still gets published. And has some value!
  • There’s so much more I could say about this subject.
    • You can use this excuse never to complete a project about the subject.
    • It’s OK to keep writing about the subject. In your next paper, chapter, or presentation, that is. Finish this one – you’ve probably said enough for now.

So Give Birth To That Baby!

The world deserves to hear what you have to say. Don’t deprive the universe of your ideas! Release them from your brain and get them out there!


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