Writing as social act
by Dame Eleanor Hull
Assorted writers—scholars, procrastinators, productivity gurus—have noted the tendency to check e-mail and blogs, sometimes obsessively, when they or their intended audience are supposed to be writing. This is usually read as a form of procrastination, and something to be avoided.
I wouldn’t say that’s not true, but I am going to propose another way of looking at the situation. Boice stresses the social aspects of scholarly productivity, and urges scholars to become socially skilled: share writing, get feedback, learn to handle criticism, and so on (The New Faculty Member ; Professors as Writers ; How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency ). What if the checking of e-mail and blogs is a search for that sort of social reinforcement that makes writing easier?
Having just mentioned to my translation-team, via e-mail, some of my excitement and frustration with the state of the MMP, I find myself longing for some friendly feedback from them. I want them to tell me that they, too, find this kind of work exciting, that it is worth doing, that they look forward to the results for their own sake and not just because it will let me give more attention to the translation project.
I know this work is worthwhile. And I like doing it. But sometimes I want the same sense of an eager (or at least supportive) audience that I have of an eager (or at least worried) audience for the comments I will make on student papers. The students are there, I see them regularly, they want to know how they’re doing. I, too, want to know how I’m doing, and it can be painful to wait until an essay is not only finished but published in order to find out what other scholars will think of it. Sure, there are conferences and so on, but really, even though we spend a lot of time reminding each other that our students are not us (that is, not likely to go on to graduate work), we lose track of the idea that we are not so different from our students (that is, we feel anxious about even projects that excite us and that we want to write).
This is what writing groups can be good for, of course. At least once a week, someone will tell you that you’re making good progress, moving the project forward, and so on, even if you’re pseudonymizing your project so that nobody knows what the MMP is really all about.
So let me suggest that if you are in the phase of writing where you frequently check your e-mail and blogroll that maybe what you’re doing is looking for support, and cut yourself some slack. Maybe ask a friend if s/he’ll send you an encouraging e-mail from time to time. Or sign up for the next iteration of the peripatetic online writing group, which a comment on my last post said would be up today at http://acaderanged.blogspot.com/
If you’re writing, consider this encouragement: I think what you’re doing is significant and worthwhile, and I look forward to hearing about your progress.
And, um, if you wanted to say something similar to me, I would appreciate it! Because the translation team is busy.