Writing with a bad attitude

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Life has been fairly tumultuous in my house lately, and quite unpredictable.  I have found myself grousing that I have no routine, no solid ground, so how can I sit down at my desk and work on a paper?  Even once the cause for the disruption has passed, I find myself holding onto it. 

Donald Murray, in an article called ‘One writer’s secrets’ (1986, College Composition and Communication, 37(2), 146-153) writes about attitudes that allow writing.  He suggests that many of us love to complain about writing.  That we go about writing as if we are performing a penance.  I do enjoy writing – most of the time.  I love the satisfaction of seeing a paper published.  I relish the puzzle of pulling the paper together into a coherent form.  But there are times when publishing in peer-reviewed journals gets me down and I feel tired at the thought of having my paper undergo backroom surgery at the hands of a reviewer.  Just recently, for example, I received a review back on a paper where the reviewer had made minor but valid points which I was quite happy to revisit and rework.  But the comments were written so sarcastically and scornfully that I couldn’t help but feel somewhat diminished.  My satisfaction in publishing this paper now feels tainted because my ears will forever ring with that sarcasm.  I’m guessing that this is not an attitude that enables writing!

So what would constitute an attitude that facilitates writing?  One that would make academic writing enjoyable?  Well, I guess we need emotional intelligence.  As I’ve been saying in previous blogs, our emotions play a huge role in our writing.  Eric Maisel, another of my favourite authors, suggests that as writers we need the full range of emotions.  Any writing is lifeless if we extract every ounce of emotion – even academic writing. But, he says, that doesn’t mean we need to be slaves to our emotions.  Emotional intelligence is deciding not to give in to a negative emotion.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t experience frustration, rage or despair.  It means we choose not to become fixed on the emotion that it dominates our actions.  In his book, A Writer’s Space, he writes: “an emotionally intelligent, emotionally mature person does not strive to avoid feeling and does not hope against hope that unwanted feelings stop arising.  Rather, he monitors and masters them by embracing the ones he wants and discarding the ones he doesn’t.  This isn’t an easy practice, it is an invaluable one.” 

There is no solid ground in writing as in life.  Things constantly change.  Who we were while writing our previous paper is not the same as who we are now while writing this one.  In the face of this instability, it is easy to let our emotions swamp us and drag us off to non-writing activities.  So, what can you do?  Maisel suggests taking a moment to calm yourself through slow, deep breathing.  Then observe the emotions you’re experiencing and make conscious decisions about what to keep (and use) and what to let go.  Or you can do what I did this morning. As I stomped outside to collect the mail, I saw a spider’s web dotted with sliver drops of dew.  I chose to enjoy the exquisite beauty of that one moment, to hold onto that feeling while I wrote, and to let go of grumpy reviewers…

Here’s hoping you have a great writing day!

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