Writing regularly to fend off fear and failure

I should have been productive…

Friday was the last official day of Academic Writing Month, or AcWriMo. November 30th. The culmination of 30 days of prioritising writing. If I was to be productive on any day, it was this day.

Was I?

No, I was not. Let’s condense 302 words to 2, and say I had “computer problems”.

Usually, that wouldn’t be a big problem. I could write the day off. I’d been to two meetings, so the day hadn’t been unproductive.

But I had unknowingly assigned some sort of emotional significance to that day. Not writing that day didn’t just mean that I hadn’t written. It also meant that I had failed my daily goal, and (with an all-too-easy mental leap) that I had let myself down with AcWriMo in general.

What did that tell me?

Giving certain days emotional significance is not productive. It just promotes guilt, which, as I’ve already discussed, doesn’t help me work.

Any day can be a writing day. The concept of one day holding more emotional importance than another for writing is restrictive, and potentially damaging.

Yes, there are practical considerations. We all have our preferred working patterns, even if we’re not always aware of them. This month I have learned that I like to work in the mornings, and work best if I have a few hours at my disposal.

I am not saying that every day should be a writing day, just that every day has that potential. If you have other plans (including down time), or you’re feeling unwell, you might choose not to write.

What’s the point?

I have spent most of my PhD being scared of writing. I’ve still done it (writing), but it has been a thing of fear. And that was one of the reasons I decided to do AcWriMo: To take away the fear. For me, practising writing is a type of exposure therapy. The more I do it, the less scary it is. Restricting writing to certain isolated days just surrounds it with mystery and fear.

I don’t feel like writing all the time. But every time I get the words coming when they were reluctant to start, I feel like I’m learning how to coax them out, and how to make any day a potential writing day.

Does academic writing fill you with fear? Do you have any tips that help you cope? Please let me know in the comments section below…

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4 comments

  1. The best tip I have is one I saw floating around a lot during acwrimo – “just write”. Basically, ignore perfectionism and just get words out there, if you constantly remind yourself of the “importance” of the words (omg, this is going to be my first phd manuscript), the fear can be paralyzing. But aiming to capture thoughts in the written word, or just to create an outline – that’s less scary. Once the initial thoughts are there, it’s easy to reorder them, and add more and more detail. And suddenly boom, you’ve got a near complete product.

  2. I can completely relate to this. I’ve come across two tips, which I find useful – one is ‘just get started!'; the other is ‘there’s no such thing as writing, only re-writing’ (unfortunately I didn’t record the sources).
    I especially like the second as it highlights that you won’t write it perfectly the first time, but that good writing is the result of lots of revising and editing! I have both of these posted on the wall directly above my laptop screen and whenever I feel slightly paralysed, these give me that little push :)

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