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What's Stopping You From Writing
Hi Manuscript Workers,
Today’s newsletter will be a little bit different. I’ve asked Malini Devadas (an academic writing coach who works with clients all over the world) to share some insights from her coaching practice.
First, a little bit of background. Last week, I booked Malini as a guest to speak to the current participants in my Book Proposal Accelerator and self-paced Book Proposal Shortcut programs. I did this because I know that while many of the participants are benefiting from the knowledge and structure provided in the programs, some are still getting stuck. They aren’t making as much progress as they’d intended to, or they aren’t posting their work for feedback. In some cases, people are actually finishing their proposal drafts, but something is holding them back from sending their submissions off to publishers.
I hold no judgment about this, and I never pressure people to finish or share their drafts if they don’t want to. We’re all trying to work within a pandemic and deeply inequitable labor conditions, so there are plenty of real obstacles that get in our way when we want to publish our books. But I’ve often wondered if there aren’t some internal obstacles that get in people’s ways too, and if there’s anything I can do to help with those.
Helping to tackle internal obstacles to writing—and to come up with viable strategies for dealing with some of the external obstacles as well—is exactly what academic writing coaches are trained to do. Because I’m not trained as a coach, I knew I needed to call in an expert, hence asking Malini to speak. After hearing her speak to the program participants and seeing how her comments landed with them, I asked if she might be willing to write up what she said for this newsletter and she generously agreed. Keep reading!
How your thoughts and feelings might be stopping you from writing
Dr. Malini Devadas
Are you an academic struggling to fit writing into your busy schedule?
If so, I want to reassure you that you’re not alone.
After many years of working with academic staff and students, I know that a significant percentage of manuscripts never see the light of day. Instead, they remain on a computer, while the author resolves to finish it ‘one day’. As the days, weeks and months pass, the weight of that unfinished manuscript increases. And so does the guilt.
Here are the three most common places where I see academics getting stuck with their writing:
They don’t get to the computer — They are unable to make time for writing because they are always doing things for other people. Or they put writing time in their diary but other tasks take over and so writing gets pushed back until ‘later’. But later never comes.
They get to the computer but can’t seem to write anything — They sit down to write but the words don’t come. So they convince themselves that they need to read another paper. Or they read another part of their manuscript that they wrote last week. Or they check their emails …
They write something but never submit it — They keep fiddling with the text, looking to make each sentence ‘perfect’. Unfortunately, as it is impossible to know when a sentence is perfect, this process never ends.
So what do thoughts and feelings have to do this any of this, you might be wondering?
Well, as humans, we are emotional beings. I know it’s uncomfortable for a lot of us (including me!) to talk about our feelings. But in the end, thoughts and feelings are what keep most of my clients from finishing and submitting their manuscripts.
As an example, if gatekeepers have made you feel like an imposter in your academic field—or if you have reason to fear this will happen to you—then you’ll be nervous about putting your writing out there for judgment. While you might tell everyone that you want to finish your book, deep down there is part of you that actually doesn’t want to finish it. And when we have an internal conflict like this, we end up doing nothing.
Or perhaps you are scared about how people will respond to what you have to say in your writing. Your message is controversial, so you go into self-protection mode, which is normal. You find other things to fill in your time. Or you will fiddle endlessly with the text, thereby never submitting the manuscript.
The good news is that you can change your thoughts, which in turn changes your feelings and leads to action. While there are many problems in academia and society in general that are beyond our control, we can do our best to protect our writing time, become confident in our skills and knowledge, and put our work into the public domain, knowing that it will help others.
Of course, as a coach myself, I’m going to say that a great way to write regularly and submit with confidence is to work with a coach! A good coach will help you identify the real reason that you’re not making progress with your writing and then help you work to let go of the thoughts that are not serving you.
But if working with a coach is not an option for you, journalling is an effective practice for getting unstuck. I use it when I’m not doing the thing that I say I want to do. The process is simple. First, stop and listen to the thoughts that are running constantly in the background. Then, write down those thoughts. Don’t censor yourself: let it all out. This is hard, but it is critical. If you censor yourself then you’ll find it hard to get to the real, and often uncomfortable, thoughts that are deep within you. The ones that are stopping you from putting your writing out into the world.
I often talk about the balance of discomfort. Right now, you might be in the discomfort of not writing. But you’re used to that discomfort; it doesn’t feel so bad, even if there are significant consequences. Today, I’m inviting you to go to the next level of discomfort, by identifying thoughts you may not want to acknowledge. But I know that if you’re willing to do the uncomfortable work, if you can be honest with yourself, it will be easier to move through those feelings to the other side, where you’re writing regularly. And actually enjoying it.
Thank you to Malini for sharing this insight with us!
If you think that coaching would help you get your manuscript or proposal finished and submitted, Malini would love to hear from you. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to organize an obligation-free chat.
If you feel you’re ready to write your scholarly book proposal but your main issue is that you’re not sure how to do that, my upcoming workshop is just the thing for you.
It’s called “Write an Outstanding Book Proposal” and it will break down what academic publishers expect to see in book proposal submissions and offer some secret* tips on how to make your submission stand out.
*The tips I’m going to share are not actually secrets. They’re just things people often don’t think to do or realize they should do. I’ll give you ten of them to take your proposal draft to the next level.
The workshop will be held over Zoom on August 10th at 10am Pacific. You don’t have to attend live; everyone who registers will get lifetime access to the recording and handouts.
This workshop is open to anyone. If your institution isn’t able to bring me in for a private workshop this year, I’m happy to coordinate with them to reserve a block of spots at this one. (You or your admin colleagues can get in touch to arrange that here.)
Hope to see you there! Tell your friends!