The title is a rhetorical question. I know writing is real work, otherwise I wouldn’t be running a business supporting academic writers. You know it’s real work. Not only is that, you know it is the work that is going to be most valued when it comes to hiring, promotion, and whatnot. Despite knowing that intellectually, writing often feels like it’s not real work.
- You do it alone.
- You get to choose what you write about.
- The cycle from starting a project to having something to show for it is really really long.
- You like it (or at least big parts of it).
- You may (be willing to) do it even if you aren’t being paid to do it.
- It may not be explicitly acknowledged as work in your workload allocation.
- You may not do it in the office, nor see your colleagues doing it in their offices.
One of the reasons people have trouble getting writing done is because if feels like “not work”, especially in comparison to some of your other responsibilities. Yes, you are really busy. It is really hard to find/make time to write, especially during a teaching term. However, it is even harder to make time for writing if you think all the other things are more important. That teaching, meetings, filling in forms, and all the rest of it is the kind of thing that legitimately belongs in the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a weekday and that it would be “nice” if you could fit writing in but it’s not really realistic to assume you could.
What do you wear when you write?
This is not a rhetorical question.
Do you dress similarly to how you dress to teach or to attend meetings? Do you wear your pyjamas/sweats and haven’t showered? Something in between?
What does this say about whether you think writing is real work? (Again, not a rhetorical question.)
What you wear is completely under your control. If you tend to the unshowered in your pyjamas end of the spectrum, I know you do this because it’s more comfortable. I am all in favour of comfort. I am so in favour of comfort that I think your professional clothing should also be comfortable.
I’d like you to reflect on what you wear to write in relation to the question of whether writing is real work. In particular, I’d like you to consider whether you are sabotaging yourself.
Naomi Dunford wrote about this issue for self-employed folks who work at home, a group who are similarly invested in their autonomy and similarly struggle with the neighbours thinking they are not really working. She came up with some questions to ask yourself. They boiled down to a couple of things:
Would you take you seriously? If you saw your neighbour dressed like that would you think they were engaged in important professional work? (If you’ve ever been defensive about the assumption that you have the summer off, you care about what your neighbour thinks.)
More importantly, is this the best thing you can be wearing to do this work? Have you actually tried dressing differently to write?
Try dressing for writing the same way you dress for your other professional duties, even if you aren’t leaving the house. I’m not thinking your “Meeting with the Vice Principal to ask for a budget increase” professional attire, but maybe your “I want these students to take me seriously” attire or even your “I’ve been invited to be an expert on a TV news program” attire.
Decide how long you will run this experiment before evaluating how it’s working. Give yourself enough time to get over the initial discomfort of doing things differently.
Take observational notes. Think seriously about what kinds of things might be different. It might be something hard to measure so give yourself an observation checklist. You are a researcher. Act like one. (Pretend you are an anthropologist if that helps.)
After you’ve tried it for the time you decided, review how it went and move forward based on the results.
When your work doesn’t look like work (in which I may appear to be arguing the opposite and encouraging you to work in your hammock despite what the neighbours think)
What should you wear to work? by Naomi Dunford at IttyBiz