Learning to Write Without Fear (For the Most Part….)

Since I officially submitted my first manuscript for publication on last week, I feel the need to blog about writing and writing related activities. The knowledge that my poor, sweet little paper is awaiting review by anonymous researchers who may (or may not) tear my writing and research apart is terrifying. For me, the entire writing process is filled with a mixture of excitement, dread, and stress. The stress comes from the blank page on my screen, especially when writing that first paragraph. At that point, everything I writes sounds trite and unimpressive. Usually I push through, writing down whatever comes to mind and returning when I’ve written enough that the pressure to perform is slightly less intense. The dread comes from completing a research paper, article, or blog post and knowing that I have to come up with something else to research and write about. Even with something as simple and informal as a blog post I still feel a slight anxiety about what to write next. Additionally, I worry whether or not what I blog will be interesting to my audience. (Eh. Probably not? Maybe?)

Asking others to proofread my work is a bit of a nail bitter as well. Sometimes it feels physically painful. It’s uncomfortable to give up the work that you stressed and slaved over to the criticisms of a friend, colleague, etc. But it’s a necessary evil. Hopefully, the criticisms are constructive and helpful. After a long period of nervousness about proofreading, I’ve reached the point where I’m asking my (very kind and giving) proofreaders to give my writing a serious ripping apart. It can only benefit me in the end. If they don’t do it, someone else will. (On a side note, getting undergrads to understand the concept and importance of proofreading may be impossible or at least really, really, really, hard and disappointing.)

Generally what I look like while writing.

Generally what I look like while writing.

How did you learn to write without fear? How did you overcome the fear of knowing others will read your work? What does you writing process look like? What do you do that makes you comfortable while writing? Unless I’m the only person who has writing nerves, which is very possible.

Learning to Write for Academia and Myself

I’ve been a student for a long time. Before I began this program last fall, I thought I had a solid understanding of what it means to write for an academic audience. But I had no idea of how much my writing would evolve over the past year. I’ve written a lot, read a lot of the literature, and received a significant amount of feedback about my writing from my colleagues. I imagine it was the sheer amount of writing I had to produce that helped improve my writing. Practice makes perfect (or at least reasonably good and possibly publishable). And also the comment on one paper, “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” No. No, I did not.

Earlier this summer, my major professor and I talked a bit about our writing styles. Sometime during the past semester, I had a friend who after reading some of my papers told me that my writing was very direct. I wasn’t sure if this should be taken as a compliment or a critique. Luckily I have a major professor who is a clear and direct writer herself. She recommended a writing style called Writing Degree ZeroI did a bit of research and found that this style comes from a book of the same name by Roland Barthes. He published Le degré zéro de l’écriture (it sounds better in French doesn’t it?) in 1953. In this books of literary criticisms, Barthes suggests neutral, or writing degree zero, as the ideal style. It is a freer style of writing, a release from clichés, over blown language, and metaphors. Exactly what I like. He also throws around words like bourgeois, revolutionary, and Marxist (which you can never have too much of).

I particularly liked this quote from the book. It’s very beautiful.

“Literature is like phosphorus: it shines with its maximum brilliance and the moment when it attempts to die.”