On the one hand, I think writing should be somewhere on the neutral-to-fun spectrum: part of the academic job, so you just do it; or part of a project that you’re really excited about it, so you love to do it.
On the other hand, I recognize both that for many people, at least some of the time, writing is hard. I like to write, and I find my research absorbing, but there are days when the prospect of writing makes me feel bad in various ways. “It’s hard” is a way to avoid the real issues.
This is my theory about why writing is hard. To do it, you have to sit down and be quiet. You stop rushing around juggling tasks, stop talking to (and listening to) students, fellow committee members, partners, children, friends, and you try to turn off the task list in your head that says “grant proposal, answer e-mail, laundry, what am I going to wear tomorrow, what’s for dinner tonight, a cookie would be good right now, how many papers are left to grade, overdue book, gosh this room is a mess.” Usually your head is so full of that kind of thing that there’s no room for anything you might be trying not to think about.
Once you get quiet, anything lurking at the back of your mind will come out.
It may be sadness, disappointment, anger, worry, even excitement about a good thing; but it will come out and try to get your attention.
And you will try to get it to go away and shut up because you have to concentrate on the grant proposal, essay, review, rough draft, whatever you’re doing.
The Thing in the Back of Your Mind does not like being ignored or told to shut up. Well, really, who does? So it gets louder, and it calls up all its friends and supporters, like the Mean Censor and Self Doubt, so they can all gang up on you.
At this point, any sensible person who doesn’t like being on the receiving end of nasty comments is, of course, going to want to get that cookie, start the laundry, or surf the internet, to get all the Things to shut up.
Now, if you learned your craft as a writer at some calm and happy time in your life, or even if you didn’t but writing was a calm and pleasant haven from the other stuff, then you probably have good habits in place that mean you either don’t get the Chorus of Things, or you can deal with them effectively already. So you can be a happy writer who does not feel that writing is hard.
But many of us learned the craft in high school, college, and grad school, times of turmoil and trouble like heartbreak, moving across the country, and dealing with troublesome roommates. You may thus actively associate writing with emotional uproar. Even if your life is calm and pleasant now, getting quiet so you can write may start up the Anvil Chorus just because you’re used to that.
So step one is to figure out whether there is a real, current Thing you don’t like to think about, or if this is habit. The most concrete current Things are in some ways easiest to deal with. You tell them yes, this is a serious problem, and you are going to call the insurance company as soon as you have put in this half hour writing. Assure the Thing that it will get your full attention in its proper turn. This politeness will usually get it to ease up for 30 minutes or so.
With old habitual stuff, you can use rational behavior-modification techniques on the Things. Ask them why they want to keep you from writing. When they say, “So Professor Nasty from freshman year won’t be mean again!” you say, “But I have already published more than Professor Nasty,” or “Well, we survived Professor Nasty and Professor Awesome thinks we’re great!” The Things may grumble a bit, but a few minutes of attention can convince them that you are too cool and rational to fall for their silly tricks.
I want to say more about writing and managing emotion (not controlling it: if you can control it, you are a Vulcan and I envy you, but we live in different emotional worlds; managing is all I aspire to), but this post is long enough already so I’ll save the rest for another time.
ComradePhysioProf: my grant-writing is coming down to the motherfucken wire!!
Contingent Cassandra: Squeeze in 2-3 short morning sessions with the P conference paper/article/outline-in-progress. Accomplish at least one additional ancillary task.
DEH: do 3 more research tasks and cobble together a nasty dirty rough draft so my RL group can tell me what to do with it.
EAM: set up the study in the new house.
FeMOMhist: 500 more words.
thefrogprincess: rewrite (reshuffle) the article according to the new structure and figure out where needs more work (more evidence, more secondary lit, etc).
GEW: Order that book review. Read 10 pages of methods chapter.
Ink: Finish two curriculum projects (out of four currently underway). Write ONE more fiction page.
JaneB: a) Smooth out the rest of the lumps into a rough draft. b) type all my notes into the outline of the Unexpected Paper that started last week.
JLiedl: Outline the article and write 500 words on it.
kiwimedievalist: Finish the editing.
Luo Lin: write 1/2 hour on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and make a realistic plan for spring break.
Matilda: planning for my presentation in April; ok, I am making an easier goal for next week: writing at least something everyday.
Nancy Warren: polish conference paper and keep working on chapter version.
profgrrrl: finish copyediting and tidying MS, send to publisher; while I travel I really need to work on an encyclopedia entry, a book proposal, and the chapter that has become an article.
Rented Life: Finish chapter 1 of book. I’d be happy to start chapter 2 but with midterm grading we’ll see. Print off and review the scenes I have so far because there’s certainly some continuity issues. And I need to just physically see them like that to start laying out chapters. Expand what I wrote last week.
Sapience: 1) write application letter for a summer job; 2) research and write at least one of the expansions for chapter 5; and 3) finish the conference paper revisions and power point presentation.