Myth #1: I’m Too Busy For a Writing Schedule
You have a lot going on. Meetings, classes, conferences, more meetings. I get it. There are a million time sensitive activities on your calendar, and other people are relying on you. It’s easy to kick your writing to the curb in the name of these seemingly more urgent tasks.
One way to conquer these feelings of busy-ness is by creating a writing schedule that is so predictable, so ingrained, so routine that you just do it without thinking. Of course, I’m not saying you should write without thinking (imagine!), but that when you sit to plan your day or week, that scheduling time to write is natural and necessary – that your day feels incomplete if you haven’t written.
In order to do this, you have to create a sense of urgency around your writing. This means that your writing has to remain a priority even while you’re busy. That urgency may come in the form of deadlines or writing goals. Think about teaching. You wouldn’t miss class just because you’re busy. You arrange your schedule around your teaching. Try to apply the same approach to your writing.
Myth #2: My Schedule is Chaotic
This myth is adjacent to the “I’m Too Busy” myth but works in a different way. It’s not just that you have a lot to do, but that your day is unpredictable. As a result, a writing schedule would be an exercise in futility, because you’ll be interrupted anyway.
Here, I’m going to dispense some tough love: the only person who can bring order to your schedule is you. One of the reasons your schedule is chaotic is because you allow it to be that way. Think of a scenario like the following: You’re in your office with the door closed, writing. Suddenly, someone knocks on the door. It’s a colleague who wants to chat about the faculty meeting you attended earlier in the day. What you think will be a brief exchange turns into a twenty-minute griping session. Next thing you know, you have no time left for writing. You literally invited a distraction into your office during your writing time.
Myth #3: I Have to Feel Inspired to Write
That harsh truth behind this myth is that feeling the need for inspiration is amateurish. I don’t say this to be cruel, I say it because it’s true – and proven by data. Professionals work on their craft as much as possible. Whether it’s a writer, an athlete, or a painter, they show up to work consistently whether they feel like it or not. Also, if writing is part of your job, then it’s necessary that you do it.
I remember a conversation I had with my advisor in graduate school. I told him I wasn’t writing because I didn’t feel inspired. His response was something along the lines of, “how long will you wait to feel inspired?” That made me realize how much I was leaving to chance. You certainly cannot predict when inspiration will come if you’re feeling uninspired. Can your writing wait that long?
Momentum will create inspiration. It takes a leap to invest in a proposition like this, but it’s through thinking and writing about your research that you generate new ideas. It’s also hard to feel inspired when you are consistently delaying your writing, and likely feeling stress about that delay.
Myth #4: I Can Only Write If I Have a Long Stretch of Time
This myth is certainly related to the last myth I described, as they both operate on the premise that you must have a specific set of conditions in place in order to write and that if they are not in place then it’s OK to abandon your writing entirely. If you believe that, then you will begin to sabotage your own writing process in no time.
It’s certainly the case that the work you do during a thirty-minute writing session will not be the same as the work you do in a two-hour writing session. If you’re used to writing for longer stretches, then the initial short writing sessions will feel strange, and you’ll likely be frustrated because you’ll feel unproductive. As you complete more short writing sessions, you’ll get better at them – like most things in life. You’ll be able to focus faster, and you’ll know what tasks you’re able to work on in short spurts.
There are ancillary writing tasks that you can achieve in short periods of time. In Eviatar Zerubavel’s The Clockwork Muse (a book I often consult in my coaching work), he distinguishes between A-TIme, when you feel like you can do your best writing work, and B-Time, or shorter sessions of time where there may even be distractions, but you can get some routine tasks completed (adding entries in your bibliography, going through abstracts to decide what you should read next, doing a bit of free writing). Thinking this way might push you to expand your understanding of what constitutes writing.
Myth #5: I Can Only Write During the Summer
Basically, this is the culmination of all the aforementioned myths. You feel so overwhelmed by all the barriers described in the myths above that you put off your writing for months. As I wrote that last sentence, it seemed dramatic to state that you are putting off writing for months, but that is what you are doing if you only write during the summer. The academic year is eight months long.
It’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you plan for yourself. You have a set of rationalizations that you fall back on, and it’s scary to put yourself first. Working with a coach can provide the necessary support you need to feel confident in setting goals, the structure to implement those goals, and the accountability to stick to your plan.
Tonight (November 29th) I’ll be on Facebook Live at 8pm EST talking about these 5 myths and other roadblocks that keep you from your writing. Please join me! If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please post it in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond.
Thank you! So true. Any advice for us in the non-profit sector who still want to publish?
That’s a good question, and I bet other researchers working outside of academia have similar questions. I’d say think about a project you can do related to your work – perhaps there is some data you can collect that can be used for a work project and for original research (of course check with your boss). If you have your own unrelated research, you need to think seriously about the amount of time you have outside of work to devote to your research. Commit to slow and steady, then find a writing partner to keep you motivated and accountable.