A few days ago, I was working with a client on revising a section of their manuscript. The draft required some re-thinking, and as we discussed the reorganization, I could hear the hesitation in their voice. The revisions would be challenging, but that wasn’t what was giving this writer pause. Instead, it was the prospect of writing it again. They were frustrated that they had to start anew, and it was this frustration — not the actual work of writing — that was proving to be the real deterrent in their writing process.
In my experience, we’re actually doing two things when we write. First, there’s the actual writing, or the placing of words on the page. Then, there are our thoughts and feelings about the writing. Here are some examples:
I shouldn’t have to write this again, because I should have gotten it right the first time. I’m so frustrated!
I can’t believe this paragraph is taking me so long. I feel disheartened.
This reviewer hates me. How can I write anything that will satisfy them? This is so anxiety-inducing.
When you have to manage these thoughts and feelings about writing in order to do the job of writing productively and successfully, you are performing emotional labor. This labor is important and time-consuming. It’s labor that, if ignored, can lead us to procrastinate, blame ourselves for every “mistake,” and lose our passion for our work.
Many of us are tempted to just put our heads down and avoid these feelings. Even worse, we deride ourselves for having these feelings in the first place! It’s an endless cycle of avoidance and blame, bringing us no closer to our goal of getting words on the page.
How do you address these thoughts and feelings? First, recognize that they’re normal — in the empirical sense. They’re not good or bad.
Next, allow yourself to have the feeling. Don’t try to stifle it. Feel frustrated or whatever else you need to feel.
Finally (for now), address your thoughts from a place of compassionate curiosity. Why do you believe you should get your writing right the first time? Try journaling around this thought, or any other thought you might have about how you “should” be writing. What do you discover?
Remember, you’re not a bad scholar for having emotions. Even if you feel like you should be spending all of your very precious (especially now) writing time getting words on the page, taking the time to attend to your thoughts about your writing will set you up for a writing practice that lasts.