When you’re pulled in a thousand directions, it’s your writing that suffers.
With so many urgent tasks sucking away your time (and energy), the week goes by and you feel like you didn’t get anything done. There are many obstacles to writing more: teaching, meetings, the guilt of stalled-out projects, the voice in your head that sounds a heck of a lot like reviewer #2.
Writing falls to the bottom of the list…again.
You know you need to write more, but how to start? One way is by shifting your attitude towards writing. So often our (lack of) writing just makes us feel guilty and overwhelmed. It’s time to change it up by changing the way you think about your writing and how it fits into your academic career.
Shift #1: From a guilt-inducing writing attitude to inspiring.
Writing is often positioned in our academic careers as a gate keeper. To get your PhD, you have to write the dissertation. To get tenure, you need to write articles. It’s like writing is standing in the way of our hopes and dreams, not helping us reach them.
And that’s where the attitude shift needs to occur. I remember being so stressed out trying to write my dissertation. Then one of my wise committee members said: Enjoy this time. It is the last time that all your academic focus will be on research project only. I will never forget those words. Though I still had my share of stress, my attitude towards what I was doing shifted, and writing became more joyful. (And I think my dissertation reflects that.)
When writing for publications that could make or break getting a job, promotion, or tenure, the stakes are high. But with a little attitude shift, we can feel better about the writing work that we need to do.
When I work with coaching clients, the first thing I have them do is write an academic mission statement. The last part of the mission statement template is “the change you want to make in the world.” By writing and publishing, your voice is influencing your field of study. And guess what? YOU are the only one who can do that in your unique way. So instead of seeing writing as a barrier to your academic career, shift that attitude to think about how your writing is a contribution to making the world better. Let your writing inspire you as a core way to work towards your academic mission.
Shift #2: Move writing up the list.
I’m just going to put this out there: If you center your writing, everything else falls into place.
It’s not quite that simple, of course, but hear me out. What if writing stopped being that thing you never get to and started being the driving force behind everything? Let me give you an example.
Next semester I’m teaching our senior linguistics seminar for undergrads and a grad course called “Current approaches in linguistic theory.” I’m also on a grant project where I’ll be collecting data on how Puerto Rican university students prepare for a qualifying exam in English for a specialization in their field that they mostly learned in Spanish-medium courses.
If I put writing first, then I can do the following:
- Set up my courses to support my research/writing project.
- Apprentice my seminar students to be my co-researchers in collecting, analyzing, and presenting the data from my grant project.
- Assign readings in the “Current approaches” course that will be used in the literature review for the presentations and papers I write from the grant project.
This helps save time by leveraging work across areas of my career (research and teaching). It helps me really show students how research and writing get done by involving them in the process with me. It helps me to focus on my writing project because I’m “writing” while prepping for class, reading for class, and facilitating class discussions. My semester becomes about one project, the output of which will be an article (incidentally I already pitched that article to a journal special issue and have been invited to submit the full version).
Writing is the center, and everything else aligns.
Shift #3: If you love on your writing, it will love you back.
Sometimes (most times?) the culture of academia sets us up for failure. There is a value in academia that goes something like: If you are really meant to be here, you would just figure out everything on your own.
Consequently, most of what we actually do in our everyday lives as academics is not taught in graduate school (or anywhere else). We have to learn to be project managers, dominate different genres of writing (most of which we’ve never written before), manage students, run a lab, hire research assistants…the list of what we’re just supposed to magically know how to do is long.
That’s why I’m glad you’re here, reading this humble blog. It means you recognize that seeking out training—even if it goes against deeply inscribed academic values to do so—is worth your time.
So let me put it this way: If you want to write more, to put writing at the center, to feel good about writing and have a healthy publication pipeline, you need to show your writing a little love. Spend time learning how you might manage your writing better. Don’t sit in a corner and think something is wrong with you for not magically knowing how to “balance” it all and make writing fit. Nothing is wrong with you. You just work in a culture where asking for help is a sign of weakness.
If you take some time and energy and invest it in showing your writing a little love, your writing will love you back. By that I mean that you will start to have positive feelings associated with writing, instead of guilt, overwhelm, and impostor syndrome.
There are lots of ways to show your writing some love, but for right now I’ll suggest one: The Write More Workshop. This is a one day, live event in Philadelphia, PA on July 17, 2018 for a small group of academic women (like you!) to come together and get an infusion of energy and support for their writing. You’ll learn how to make time to write, exactly how to put writing at the center of your career, and how to plan and maintain a beautifully flowing publication pipeline.
If you’re interested in joining me in Philly, registration is now open for The Write More Workshop. Early bird ends on March 1, so sign up today! Click here for all the juicy details, and then register to give your writing some much-needed love!