Something that a couple of members shared at the end of A Meeting With Your Writing reminded me of an important point. Sometimes the reason you think you’ve not accomplished much (in your writing, or in your work in general) is because the work you needed to do is work you wish you didn’t have to do at all. Even when it’s work you accept you have to do, you wish it didn’t take so long. Sometimes your gremlins think it should take less time or be unnecessary.
A couple of examples…
Coming back to a project you haven’t looked at
In one situation, A had recently submitted something and was returning to a paper she hadn’t looked at in over a month. She expressed disappointment that she’d spent the entire 90-minute Meeting With Your Writing refamiliarizing herself with what she was trying to do.
In A’s situation, the work she was doing to move her project forward was absolutely essential. I’m not sure if she wrote anything or not but I suspect that if she did it was more like marginal comments than actual text. Her gremlins might even have got in on the act. Gremlins love writing marginal comments, though they tend towards the “What were you thinking?!?!” and “Does this mean anything?!?!” style. They are exaggerating. You are not an idiot. There was a point. You can figure it out.
The fact is A was reading a draft. By definition, it was not clear enough for submission or she would have submitted it and let it sit on someone else’s desk awaiting reviews while she worked on her other project. It’s not surprising that she’s forgotten what she was doing. She set it aside because she had too many other things going on to give it appropriate attention. Her 90-minute Meeting With Your Writing session was productive. She now knows what she was trying to do and has some notes for next steps. That’s progress.
It would also be progress if she had spent 90 minutes reading the draft, thinking about it, and decided that with the benefit of distance she is not going to finish this project. Either outcome is a decision. Decision making is real work that takes real energy. Word counts aren’t always a valid measure of progress.
The transition from writing about your findings to writing for a specific audience
In another Meeting, B commented that earlier in the day she’d had an in person writing session with some colleagues and had found it hard to focus and make progress on her project. She almost didn’t come to A Meeting With Your Writing, but showed up anyway. Her session went surprisingly well — she got into flow after about 15 minutes and felt really good about it.
I know from other conversations that B is at the stage with her paper where she is trying to clarify the argument and situate it appropriately for a particular journal. That stage is tough. You are shifting from writing to satisfy your own intellectual curiosity to writing something that will make a contribution to an ongoing scholarly conversation. This transition is often difficult. It is the kind of thing you wish were a result of lack of experience but is really a normal, if frustrating, part of the process.
The work you are doing at this stage is largely intellectual. You might find it difficult to articulate your thoughts. In the past, I’ve had people report at the end of A Meeting With Your Writing that they realized that there were really 2 articles in there and once they had that realization everything started to flow. Sometimes you just have to grapple with the ideas for a bit before you can write them down. You will find it hard to focus. You will want to go check social media, get up from your chair, work on something else. This is one of those occasions when it is appropriate to force yourself to stay with it. (Though as long as you keep sitting back down and flipping back from social media to your document, you’re good.)
This whole process can also be emotionally difficult. You are comfortable with (possibly even excited about) your research findings but thinking about specific journals and the other scholars who publish there can trigger a lot of insecurity about whether you have anything important enough to say to them. Call it Imposter Syndrome or something else, but the gremlin chorus can sometimes make it hard to think.
This is what writing looks like
This is why you come to A Meeting With Your Writing, because having that group and being in the habit of coming every week means you are more likely to show up and stay in the chair for 90 minutes doing this thing you wish you didn’t need to do to move your project forward. This is why I don’t get you to set goals. This is why I ask you how your project moved forward (rather than whether you met your goal).
Experience helps. It helps you stick with it because you know from experience that it’s part of the process. You still wish you didn’t need to go through this, but you can get yourself out of wishing (and the consequent resistance) faster. Experienced writers still experience both of these things. There is nothing wrong with you. You might not enjoy this session but you will enjoy it again when you get going.
I’ve written more about the transition from exploring your curiosity to writing for an audience in The Scholarly Writing Process (A Short Guide)
Both of these examples also illustrate how the particular task affects your ability to focus. Optimizing Focus: 3 elements to consider
This is a lightly edited version of a newsletter sent to both Studio members and those who subscribe to the Academic Writing Studio newsletter on 9 November 2018. Subscribe to the Academic Writing Studio Newsletter.