The past eight months have passed in a blur – not only because of teaching and research commitments but because our family has been dealing with a significant health issue. My teaching semesters are over for a while and I’ve had time to take a break. This respite allowed me to realise how much I’ve been in coping mode trying to meet obligations and do my job. I haven’t consciously been living. I do think living consciously or mindfully helps writing productivity. What this means is stopping, taking a breath and consciously making decisions about what you want to do in this moment. For example, if I’m in coping mode and I have a deadline for a paper, I have a goal (to finish the paper) but my mind is on the deadline and who will be reading it once it’s finished. I push myself through the process of putting the paper together because that’s what I’m trained to do. But the practice is fraught with anxiety and is energy-draining. If I take a mindful approach, then I’m noticing which aspects of the paper excite me and I might begin with those sections. Perhaps my energy is low, so I notice that the easy bits of the paper such as the methodology or describing the context would be the best bits to work on now. Instead of rushing through, focussing on the goal of finishing, I might stop to listen to how the paper sounds if I read it out loud. I might even think about the words I’m using and change words like ‘dissemination’, often used mindlessly despite it’s gender-heavy connotations to something like ‘distributing knowledge’. If I’m consciously in the moment, I might also notice that I’m feeling rushed, anxious and pulled in a million different directions and then take the time to practice self compassion and ask ‘What can I achieve today?’ Not what should I be achieving today? Or what ought I be achieving today? But what is possible given my energy levels and my time? Perhaps all that is achievable is a very bad first draft. A first draft full of notes to yourself about what should go in sections, possibly some quotes and names of authors, some extremely poorly written parts, and some bullets points. No matter how badly written, it will be the beginnings of an argument, a sketch of the story you want to tell in this paper, an outline of your thinking around the message you want to convey. Papers often develop in the writing and a bad draft is a good beginning. It’s much easier to rework a draft than it is to get the initial thoughts down. So in your writing today, stop, listen, notice and question.
You might be interested in watching Kristen Neff’s TED talk on self-compassion: