In our workshop, we discussed the many obstacles that get in the way of creativity/productivity/writing. What became clear across the course of the conversation is that writing obstacles are a little like Tolstoy’s unhappy families; each writing difficulty is difficult in its own prickly way.
That’s actually good news as well as bad news. As we brainstormed types of obstacles, discussed sample scenarios, and produced possible solutions, it was refreshing to think about the fact that writing problems come and go, many are time-bound (writing with an infant at home) or otherwise based in temporal stages of life (whether that’s stage in career, family life, or simple the moment in the writing process). As a result, there are LOTS of possible strategies. If you’re curious about seeing how this might apply to your own creative/writing life, I’m reproducing our list of obstacles, scenarios, and solutions here:
Transition from grad school
Types of obstacles change over time
- Elderly parents
- Tenure track
- Promotion progress
- Access to resources
- Physical/health challenges and/or low energy
- the internet, especially absorbing negative news stories
- mindless, easily accomplishable tasks
- Self-doubt/imposter syndrome
- Twitter bullying
- Rejection criticism
- Use rejection to turn to advantage
Writing Obstacle Case Studies
- What kind of obstacle is it? (emotional, interpersonal, material, something else?)
- What are the negative contributing factors here? What’s potentially getting in this writer’s way?)
- What might this writer do?
- You are a new parent, returning back to work after your 8-12 weeks of FMLA leave. You and your partner have procured daycare for MWF, your teaching days, and are swapping the baby back and forth between yourselves on T/R. You are having trouble focusing on writing, and often find yourself frittering time away on email when you are tired. When the baby naps, you are just able to keep up with the laundry and get a healthy meal on the table. Your MWF’s are full of other people who need things, and you’re not finding the time to get your writing done. Also, you feel angry and resentful that you’re not able to spend the quality time with baby that stay at home parents do.
- Congratulations, you’ve just gotten your first tenure-track job at a teaching-focused state college! You love your students and the opportunity to teach a wide variety of courses. Additionally, your small department has gotten you involved right away, doing advising, assessment, and other engaging projects. You find that with new class preps, lots of grading, and meetings, your days feel full and fulfilling. You’ve always enjoyed writing and research, but it’s not essential that you publish a manuscript to receive tenure and since few of your colleagues do research, you find that there is some bias against it. And yet, you have this bad, lurking feeling that your good writing ideas are starting to atrophy…
- After much effort, you have sent your first article out for review. Your mentor said this was an excellent seminar paper and you’ve worked with her on several rounds of revision. Now you have your readers’ reports back, and they are not what you had hoped. One reviewer suggests using a very different theoretical framework and also has several questions about your close readings; the other reviewer seems downright hostile and begins his/her report with the sentence, “This is a very strange article.” You feel embarrassed and ashamed. Is this the right career for you? What was your advisor thinking?
- You are working on your dissertation. Right now, your advisor is reading one of your chapters and giving you feedback. The last time he/she did so, the feedback was copious and there were many rounds of revision you needed to go through. Waiting for the feedback makes you feel anxious, and you have the additional pressure of running out of funding. Together, these pressures make you just want to bury your head in the sand.
- You have achieved tenure at your institution. Hooray! Now you find that the Provost wants you to head up the revision to the core curriculum. Additionally, it’s now your turn to serve as director of undergraduate studies. These tasks are engaging and rewarding—it’s about time the curriculum was updated! The previous DUGs was doing a crap job! Plus, you’ve completed your last book and you don’t have that terrible publish or perish pressure anymore. It’s so nice to feel busy without that crazy publishing pressure…. or is it?
- You have been getting involved in the women’s organization on campus and are working to pressure the administration to be more transparent in its reporting of sexual assault. You feel simultaneously energized and drained by the important work you are doing with the young students in the organization, so you’re spending a lot of your time there. When you sit down to write, your work on author X just feels less motivating, so you find yourself clicking over to Facebook, where you can see your horrible cousin’s sexist posts, the news of the latest high-profile sexual harassment, and where you can post news about your latest on-campus rallies.
- Your dissertation was on what has turned out to be a trending topic, and you were lucky enough to get a job at an R1 institution. Your teaching load is low, but the courses require extensive labor, and the popularity of your focus has led to multiple speaking engagements at other institutions. You know that you need a second book for tenure, but it’s really flattering to get all of this attention, so you are not getting that second book off the ground.
- Find conferences suited to the larger project, try not to be distracted by writing papers for panels or journals not related to the larger project
- Plan and plan regularly—where are your projects in the “pipeline”? what will it take to move them forward? (see this great article by Erin Marie Furtak: http://www.chronicle.com/article/My-Writing-Productivity/236712 )
- Summer is full time work time
- Set small goals, such as one chapter per year/semester
- Don't get distracted at work: look over promotion and tenure requirements, and try to maximize doing things that will support the research and minimize those that won't; be efficient with requirements. (categories for service: State, community, university, department--one for each) It is hard to say no, but figure out really flattering ways to do that.
- Scope of projects
- Keep your work in view, so it’s easy to pick up
- Take 30 minutes at a coffee shop/library before “checking in” to your office
- Use internet blocking programs such as “SelfControl” or “freedom”
- Try Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die program
- Protected time during the week
- Let chair/colleagues know you are trying to complete a project
- Release time for administrative work--can be very useful, but look it over carefully
- Five/three load, for those teaching 4/4
- Set up panels at conferences on your topic
- Go to conferences focused on your topic of interest
- Spend your own money?--put skin in the game...
- Small faculty grants, one for each chapter (archival work)
- At one’s own stage
- Send outline, prospectus
- Exchange ideas
- Do a homemade writing retreat with friends