Scholarly Writing: A House of Pain?

in Articles from our Newsletter

Some academic writers get completely, hopelessly stuck. The closer their deadline looms, the less they write. Often this is the point where people contact me for coaching.

If you are stuck, try starting with just a little every day. I wrote about this technique in last week’s newsletter, which can be found here.

Unfortunately, for some people, even 15 minutes can seem overwhelming. With this in mind, I decided to share some comments that my clients have made during the course of implementing this technique. My hope is that their experiences will encourage you to get started.

In each case, we had come to an agreement that the client would write 15 minutes a day. The comment of one person before she began this process is typical of the negative thoughts that plague the blocked writer:

“I (felt guilty) about not doing my work consistently, and I was convinced that everyone else was a lot more disciplined or had way better time management skills.”

These quotes are representative of how it feels after getting started:

“You shouldn’t call this coaching. You should call it Gina’s House of Pain.”
“It was excruciating.”
“I put in a few disjointed ideas.”
“I’ll never finish by the deadline if I only write this much a day.”

It wasn’t easy doing the 15 minutes at first:

“I sat down late and tried for a 15-minute session and needed 35 minutes or so; my level of distraction was such that I couldn’t resist burning a CD, looking at a few e-mails, adding to tomorrow’s calendar while reading bits and pieces from a chapter…”

“I really dislike the stuff I’m doing at the moment: I feel mired.”

“Still, though my progress was infinitesimal, I can see that sitting here and being almost completely unproductive is better than not sitting here at all.”

As time went on, people got a little calmer and saw some changes:

“I did the 15 minutes today. I think it was more like 20 minutes.”

“I wrote today, for about an hour. I intended to do 15 minutes, really, and that’s what enabled me to sit down at all. I was struggling to explain the point of some theorist’s work. I stopped and instead free-wrote a paragraph about why this point matters for my topic.  That was helpful and easier. I stopped before I was finished.

“Another close call but squeezed in a 15 minuter at the close of day. Again to my surprise an idea or two occurred to me.”

After doing this for a while, some more positive comments snuck in:

“These last few days I’ve actually been drawn to putting in my humble block of time.”

“Just the act of sitting in front of the computer and writing energizes…”

“I’ve been writing for about 30 minutes now…today’s session was quite a bit more productive than others have been.”

Eventually, there is a reward. The habit starts to stick. The horrible dread recedes. People begin to recollect why they were attracted to their field in the first place.

“I can’t help but focus on (the fact that) is the best I’ve felt about writing for a long time.”

“My 15 min became an hour tonight. It’s becoming a little bit of a nice, secure time.”

I hope you are inspired by what these writers have been able to accomplish. Not demanding too much of yourself in a perfectionistic way, reducing your anxiety by taking small steps, and getting support from others can accomplish a lot.

To me, though, the most important result is that people will actually look forward to the rest of their academic or professional career. Isn’t that really your ultimate goal?

© Gina Hiatt, PhD
Gina is a dissertation and tenure coach. She helps academics, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing, to reach their goals more quickly and less painfully.

Previous post:

Next post: