Writing is Hard…

Among other things, I teach content area literacy courses.  (For those of you reading this who might not be familiar with what content area literacy is, it’s VERY basically reading and writing in subject specific contexts–I’ll be posting more about the course itself once the semester starts, but that’s the simple definition for now since that’s really not the topic of this particular post) Before I came to the university, I spent many years teaching English and was the co-director of the Bay Area Writing Project, the founding site of the National Writing Project.  I teach writing.  I believe in writing.  And in many circumstances, I love writing.

But, to be honest, sometimes writing is hard.

I didn’t actually always think writing was hard.  When I was little, I used to compete regularly in creative writing contests and even write for fun on the weekends.  I used to write historical fiction in middle school because I thought it would be cool (I don’t even think I asked for extra credit!) and even academic papers through high school weren’t really ever problematic.  College and graduate school became trickier, but still, I prided myself in strong academic and personal writing skills. In fact, even these days, sometimes I don’t think writing is hard.  I mean, I am writing this blog of my own free will and I certainly write enough facebook status updates to fill several pages a week.

But, starting with my dissertation, writing became a lot harder, a lot more frequently.

I’ve thought a lot about this and I think that a large part of why writing suddenly became harder is because at that point, writing became not only about proving myself and my skills, but also about proving that I had something valid to say.  I wasn’t writing a story for my own entertainment.  I was no longer given a topic and asked to argue for particular ideas.  I was asked to generate new, innovative (or at least substantive) knowledge.  Writing was not just for the approval of a semi-omnipotent teacher or professor, but was submitted for acceptance to a larger body of my “peers” in the research community.  Suddenly, this type of writing became a sort of representation of who I am as an academic, as a researcher, and (in a weird, problematic and possibly pathological way) as a person.

But that wasn’t the only problem with this new type of writing:  I suddenly found myself writing pieces that were bigger than me.

Let me explain.  As an academic, my worst nightmare was having nothing to say, but what I began to discover as I wrote was that, at times, I almost have too much to say and it all comes out as a jumbled disorganized mess that I don’t even want to look at, and that I certainly don’t want to represent me.  So, when I get a “revise and resubmit” on something that upon close rereading, I wish I had never submitted in the first place, my first instinct is to completely scrap it and start all over.  Depending on the day, “start all over” means to rewrite the entire paper or to just scrap the entire study for being less methodologically rigorous than it should have been.

These two things make writing these days (at least writing for publication) hard.

As part of my job, it’s also not optional.

So, here I am, writing about writing and how hard it is, as a form of procrastination because what I really need to do is go back to some of the most basic pre-writing strategies I know: brainstorming; planning; outlining (or doing some kind of organizing); gathering background information; sticking to the topic (even if it’s a self-generated topic); revising; editing.  I need to sit down and patiently organize myself and my thoughts to write some pieces that I’m proud of…or at least okay with. And I need to remind myself that I’m not just writing as part of my job, I am writing because I hope that someday what I write will make a difference for teachers and students.

I’m hoping to write and submit at least 2 articles this semester, but in order to that, I’ll have to remind myself that while writing is hard, the opportunity to be in a profession where writing just might make a difference is a privilege. And, like many other things in my life, if I want the results that I hope for, I need to be patient with myself, get present to my purpose and then get down to business.

I’ll keep you updated.

One thought on “Writing is Hard…

  1. Pingback: Why Writing is Really Hard: The Self-Suppression of Identity & Voice in Scholarship | The Life and Times of an Assistant Professor

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