Tag Archives: emotions

Writing processes


Although I firmly believe that writing is a social practice (we write to be read and in response to contextual conditions), a good portion of our writing time is often done alone.  Many of you will know that I’m very interested in ‘procrastination’ in academic writing and what this means.  Often procrastination is touted as a lack fo self-disicpline and I honestly think that poor self-disicpline is not a characteristic of most graduate students.  The graduate students I see are, in addition to studying, working, looking after families, volunteering on student and other committees, and generally leading exceptionally busy lives. I think procrastination has less to do with individual personality traits and more to do with the nature of academic writing.  I’ve made this argument several times – in my book “Productive Writing” and in various presentations.

Recently, I’ve become interested in what individual writing processes look like and what this can tell us about procrastination.  By chance, I came across this YouTube video made by a student on his writing processes.  It has made me think about the way I write:  when do I pause?  how often do I edit? when does writing flow? Have a look and see what you think.




Writing with a bad attitude


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!

Writing, rejection and ‘procrastination’



Writing is an emotional activity.  We like to pretend, in academic contexts, that when we write formally, we also write with some objective distance.  Yet anyone who has received a rejection letter from a journal or feedback from a thesis supervisor will know how painful it can be.  Our reactions are not objective at all.  Things tend to get a bit mixed up in academic writing.  Our self-esteem, notions of intelligence, standing in the community, pride, and confidence all become intermingled in our writing.  So if our writing gets critiqued, so do all these other aspects of our selves – at least in our minds.  Rejection of our writing becomes equated with rejection of who we are, evidence of our lack of intelligence now exposed for the world to see, and proof that we are not really academic enough to belong in this world.  As you are reading this, you are aware of how ludicrous this all is but in the moment when you receive a rejection of your writing, all these thoughts pass through your head.


You only need to receive one set of negative feedback on your writing to experience painful emotions.  In a lifetime of writing at school and then university, we experience many, many negative emotions around writing.  It is not surprising, then, that your body, your entire being, will want to get up from your writing desk and find something comfortable to do rather than write.  Getting a doughnut (instead of writing) will make you feel satisfied and content.  Cleaning the floor/walls/etc (instead of writing) will make you feel in control, virtuous and worthy.


If the writing is high stakes – something we feel strongly about or if we write for an important audience – the more we anticipate the adverse response and negative emotions we feel we are likely to experience.  In these cases, it becomes much harder to get the writing done and much easier to find something else to do.


Sometimes we experience positive emotions when we receive a good review or our thesis supervisor is happy with our work.  But often we rationalise these positive emotions as ‘once off’ or ‘lucky’ and we put it down to the exception rather than the rule.  The more positive experiences we have, the more we are likely to persevere when we experience rejection.  That’s why more experienced academic writers get to a point where they don’t mind journal reviewers’ comments because they can see the value in them and feel the ultimate satisfaction when the paper is finally published.


The reason why I’m harping on about negative emotions and writing is because many people stop writing and move into non-writing careers after experiencing a painful rejection.  Others try to persevere but suffer from ‘procrastination’ or writer’s block.  Still others leave the rejected paper/chapter, no matter how important it is, and don’t re-write or resubmit.  They move onto safer topics.  This is the real danger of negative emotions from writing – that it shifts us away from what we want to write about in the way we want to write about it.


What can you do?  Write about your experiences of receiving a rejection.  Share your experiences with others.  There’s nothing like hearing someone else’s story to put yours into perspective especially if there is humour involved.  Think about critical incidences in your writing career. Have there been moments/incidents that caused you to shift from your original path? Draw (scribble) your emotions when it comes to writing.  Write ‘I feel…’ paragraphs about aspects of writing such as getting negative feedback.  The more you recognise what you are experiencing, the more you will be able to deal the urge to get up and do something else.