Every year it's the same story. Whenever I attend large conferences in late summer, many people -- from graduate students through endowed chairs -- approach me to discuss their writing (or more accurately, the lack thereof). These conversations have a similar awkward quality and painful script that I've only experienced in a confessional booth: no eye contact, hushed voices, palpable guilt, and a touch of desperate hope that another person can say something that will wipe away the past and provide new hope for the future. In these instances, person after person pulls me aside to confess their various writing sins. Unfortunately, I have no power to grant absolution so all I can do is listen.
These conversations cause me to wonder why the perfectly natural and common experience of getting stuck in our writing feels like a dirty little secret? Why do we ALL think that we're the only ones who struggle with writing? And why is our natural response to writing problems self-isolation, self-flagellation and avoidance of the very types of community that would help us to move gracefully through our writing resistance? I hear the same two themes over and over again:
I am hopelessly stuck, I'm not writing and I haven't written for a very long time, and
I feel___________ (angry, guilty, ashamed, frustrated, afraid and/or depressed) about my lack of productivity.
As difficult as these conversations are, there's one remarkable point of contrast. I frequently have the pleasure of meeting with groups of graduate students, post-docs, and new faculty who I've worked with via campus workshops, training webinars, or in our Faculty Success Program. These folks spend their summers engaged in consistent daily writing, participating in writing accountability groups, and staying connected to communities of support that help them through the tough times. As a result they're able to gush about their completed articles, chapters, dissertations, grant proposals, and book manuscripts, as well as the unexpected book contracts, funding, and opportunities that occurred as a result of their productivity. These individuals are energetic, engaged, empowered, and dare I say, happy about their writing progress and excited to start the new academic year.
The difference between my typical frustrated confessional conversations and the celebratory ones I have with productive daily writers is so striking that I am feeling inspired to spend the next 15 weeks walking with each one of you, week-by-week, to help you work towards managing your time in ways that will: 1) allow you to stay closely connected to your intellectual projects, 2) create time each day for academic writing, and 3) exert your personal power in the areas of your professional life where you DO have control. If you've already achieved this, feel free to unsubscribe using the button at the bottom of the page, and/or forward the Monday Motivator to someone who may find it useful.
How About A Fresh Start?
Because the beginning of the academic year is filled with fresh starts, I want to encourage you to make this week a fresh new beginning in your relationship with your writing. The best way to do so is by letting go of all the negative and debilitating feelings associated with what you have NOT done in the past. Guilt, disappointment, and frustration aren't useful energies to draw on as you move forward into a new academic year. Instead, try forgiving yourself and moving on. In other words, instead of beating yourself up, let's try using all that energy to accept that academic writing is a slow and time consuming process, create an achievable semester/quarter plan, pro-actively block out at least 30 minutes each day for your writing, and connect to whatever supportive community will meet your needs.
The Weekly Challenge
This week, I challenge you to do the following:
- Let go of any past writing failures and release yourself from the negative feelings associated with not writing, producing, or finishing your work.
- Go through your calendar for the entire term and mark out at least 30 minutes each day (Monday through Friday) for your daily writing.
- Write down your research and writing goals for the term.
- Stop and do a quick reality check by asking yourself: are these goals realistic for ONE semester or quarter?
- Map out the work that will be required to meet your goals and connect that work to specific weeks in your calendar.
- Commit yourself internally to making changes that will allow you to move your writing projects (whatever they may be) out the door.
- Choose some form of community that will support you through the ups and downs of your writing over the next 15 weeks.