“You don’t need accountability” generated some interesting conversation. I want to say “on Twitter” but this isn’t really a conversation you can have in 140 characters. A couple of people I engage with on Twitter, who also write about writing and how to do it, have either written or shared related pieces. My goal for this blog is that it becomes a library of useful things, so I’m sharing this conversation to this library.
My goal for this conversation about accountability and related issues is to help you think about what supports your writing and how you can develop a writing practice that works for you.
Rachael Cayley, who tweets as @explorstyle, shared a post focused on a comment she received from a PhD student at the end of a recent course on thesis writing. Accountability is part of the broader discussion of productivity and it raises some interesting questions.
Read her post: Productivity: an ethical response
The ethical paradigm that rewards growth and creativity is quite different to the one that adjudicates and punishes. This insight from the world of ethics might bring to awareness a question worthy of consideration. Is writing a dissertation more about obligation and getting stuck in one’s own limitations, or is it more about creativity and exploring my own personal, undiscovered potentials? [the student, Anne Sirek]
leading to these thoughts from Rachael in response.
When we treat writing as something to be managed or as a chore or as a necessary evil, we are foreclosing the possibility that writing might be joyful or that we might use the occasion of writing to be kind to ourselves.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I talk often about the inherent challenge of academic writing. And I definitely see a great deal of benefit in acknowledging that difficulty. Doing so allows us to ask this crucial question: ‘how can we write through the difficulty?’. Like many people, I’ve been thinking of late about the influence of William Zinsser on the way we approach writing. I often return to this passage: “Writing is hard work…. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard” (On Writing Well, 2005, p. 12). As a teacher of writing, I feel obliged to offer a bit of pragmatism: you don’t need to enjoy writing, you just need to get down to it and work through the difficulty. It seems so important that each struggling writer be reminded that the problems aren’t theirs alone—everyone struggles with writing.
Read the whole piece as Rachael goes on to tease out this response and raise more questions.
One thing this got me thinking about is the relationship between joy and hard work. Are you assuming that experiencing joy negates the possibility that this is hard work? I’ve written about this and related assumptions about writing being work that you might love before:
Love and hard work addresses the apparent exclusivity of love (or joy) and hard work.
Loving your work and the work you don’t love addresses the fact that writing might bring you joy and there might also be parts of the work itself that you do not experience as joyful.
And yes, I think love and joy get the same sort of treatment and can be elided for the purposes of this discussion. If not the same, they are at least more similar to each other than to things like productivity, deadlines, accountability, etc.
Rachael is writing for an audience of PhD students. I am writing to an audience of working academics, along with PhD students, which makes me more conscious of the fact that these issues are not just issues for new academic writers but continue well into an academic career.