This guest blogpost from Lisa Munro deals with writing and introduces some ideas to make the experience less lonely.
All scholars know that they should be writing more, but being a productive writer is one of the most difficult and fraught parts of being an academic.
A culture of silence surrounds academic writing. We know we should be writing more, yet no one seems to want to talk about how to accomplish more and better writing. The same culture of silence leads to profoundly lonely and isolating writing experiences for many people. Writers in the humanities, in particular, tend to suffer feelings of isolation, as they often write alone. Although scholars are often eager to receive feedback on their ideas, few people wish to talk about the actual difficult business of the writing process. When they do, it’s usually in hushed tones and with no small amount of guilt and shame about not writing, not writing enough, or not writing well. Few academics reach out for writing help, even when they desperately need it.
In her influential book on academic journal writing, How to Write Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, Wendy Belcher argues that academic writing should be social. Connecting with other people is one of the things that can change the way we feel about writing. One of the reasons to make writing more social is because many of our negative feelings about writing thrive in isolation and grow in silence. Feelings of shame about writing fester when we don’t talk about them. When we finally do open up and talk to other people about writing, we discover that others feel the same way. Other people feel just as ashamed, anxious, and guilty about their writing as we do. Sharing these experiences with others creates a shared sense of empathy. Harnessing the power of empathy to overcome writing challenges makes us feel better about ourselves as writers because we know that other people are struggling too.
Even for the most introverted academics, there are many ways to make writing more social and much less lonely.
Blogging. Some scholars seem to view blogging with disdain, dismissing it as a form of frivolous writing for non-academic audiences. Admittedly, blogging is not going to earn anyone tenure; however, blogging about research has many benefits. Most importantly, blogging puts new academic thinking out into the world. Even short posts about a subject help to clarify the big ideas and get the writing process rolling. Blogposts also engage far more readers than even the most prestigious journal article. Putting research thoughts out on a blog puts writers in conversation with each other; in turn, great blogposts often inspire other great blogposts. Blogging also helps create a daily writing practice. I’ve used blogging to keep myself accountable to a writing plan. For example, last year I blogged weekly about the process of writing a journal article. Because I was blogging and people were reading, I stuck to my schedule and finished my article on time.
Social media. Networking is a vital part of the writing process because sharing ideas with other scholars make us better thinkers and writers. Social media, despite its many problems, helps scholars put their ideas in conversation with each other. Twitter, in particular, has great implications for making writing much more social. Engaging fellow scholars on social media provides near-instant feedback on ideas. Twitter is also a great place to talk about writing. Lots of people on Twitter are writers; even more importantly, there are lots of people on Twitter struggling with their own writing. I’ve seen people use Twitter to hold themselves accountable, to discuss writing problems, and to cheer other people on in their struggles. Engaging with other people helps us to feel less alone during writing.
Writing groups. A weekly writing group can do wonders for making writing more social. Although the idea of discussing writing with colleagues may invoke feelings of dread of reading fellow colleagues’ tedious writing, a writing group can motivate members to write more and better. Writing groups help members work through problems of time management, organising writing and staying motivated through a long writing project. As scholars, we often seem to feel a greater sense of accountability to other people than ourselves. Speaking to actual people has other miraculous benefits. Sometimes we get so involved in our subjects that we lose sight of the big picture when we run into writing walls; a thoughtful outside opinion can often help clear up messy arguments and smooth out thorny theoretical discussions. Writing group members can offer valuable feedback that can help us get unstuck and to move forward again.
If writing conjures up a tidal wave of negative emotions, try making it more social. See if talking with people helps to ease some of the negative feelings associated with writing. Connect with other people, write, reconnect and write more. Writing will never be easy, but talking about writing struggles openly and honestly with others can help make it a far less painful experience.
About the author: Lisa Munro is an independent writing consultant and freelance editor who helps scholars write better. She has a PhD in history from the University of Arizona (2014) with a focus on modern Latin America. Her interests include the history of Maya archaeology, pseudoscience, pop culture and Latin American—US relations. You can visit her website at www.lisamunro.net and she is also on Twitter @llmunro.
Final thought from the editor: If you read this and now you’re looking for an academic writing group on Twitter then you might like Shut Up and Write Tuesdays. There are different groups for different international timezones.
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