“I Can’t Write.”: Lies I Tell Myself Sometimes

I struggled with my writing this semester. This is a confusing and (sort of) funny announcement when I look back at last month’s post about my success in publishing. What began with unexpected criticism about my writing in late August spiraled into several months of self-doubt and negative thinking. At one point it became so bad that I considered dropping out of the doctoral program; something I haven’t thought about since my first year. Whenever I would sit down to write, self-defeating thoughts would swarm in my head. Thoughts like, “This is terrible.”,”What will so-and-so say about this?”, “You’re not smart enough.” These thoughts would cripple me. I couldn’t write more than a paragraph before re-reading, editing, reediting, and finally deleting everything.

I know I can write. I’m a good writer, and I work hard. I’ve been published in three (soon-to-be four) peer-reviewed academic journals. But there’s a difference between knowing I can write and believing I can write. So, how did I overcome this fear of writing and actually write? (I’m still battling this fear. This will probably be something I struggled with for as long as I write.)

My only answer has been to keep writing. I’ve stuck to a writing schedule that I started during my first year. It’s a very simple schedule — I write every day. EVERY DAY. I always have a goal for each writing day, usually beginning, working on, or finishing a section of something. Some days I writing a lot, some day just a bit. And this summer I began writing with a group of friends (who are also LIS doc students). Our informal writing group meets regularly at coffee shops to write together, talk about our work, and provide a “you can do it!” when needed. I like working and talking with people who enjoy what they do. It’s good for my mental health and my writing. Dissertation work can be a lonely experience.

Another approach I use is not worrying so much about what I write in that first draft. The sentences and paragraphs I write don’t need to be astonishingly brilliant, perfect, or mind-blowing. It’s just a draft, only for me. There will be plenty of time for edits, pondering, advice, and rewrites. In this moment, the words I write isn’t for anyone else but me. It doesn’t matter what someone else will think, recommend, or question. That will matter latter, but even then I’m writing mainly for myself.

Writing is hard. It’s always been hard for me. But there’s something wonderful about the process of writing — from that first blank page to the published piece. It’s a lovely experience to see your writing evolve and become stronger because of (or sometimes in spite of) challenges. I think it’s worth it.

Happy New Year! Here’s to a happy and productive 2015!

What are you looking forward to in 2015?

How do you deal with writing (or other) struggles?