Writing: Still fun, still far from easy

Today I was asked by the lovely folks at DML Commons to participate in a webinar about writing and collaboration, and it was so much fun to chat with several fantastic academic writers about their writing ideas and habits.grantwriting-tablescape

In short, I’d say that the major lesson was that (surprisingly or unsurprisingly!), writing
is hard for everyone. That, and we all are addicted to coffee.

Here’s my tablescape from yesterday’s grant writing. A nice window, coffee, tea, and knitting are just some of the ingredients in my successful writing sessions. I have to have caffeine and a distraction for my hands.

Sometimes, I don’t think that my students believe me when I tell them that I have a difficult time with writing, too. It’s tough to make the time to sit down and hash out what I mean. It’s even tougher when I show a messy draft to someone else and that person doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say.

In a graduate seminar that I once took with Deb Brandt, she started off the year by having us interview ourselves and our families about our own histories with writing. It was striking to me how many people in that class had traumatic memories associated with writing: My classmates remembered writing in the wrong place (on the wall with crayons), writing that went to the wrong person (passing notes in school), writing in the wrong way (remedial handwriting classes), writing as punishment (“I will never push Bobby again. I will never push Bobby again…”). Deb said that was one of the most persistent and most surprising findings in her work. While reading is often a magical experience, writing is a painful one. It’s painful, though sometimes SO much fun, in new and different ways now that so much of my job depends on it. I no longer worry about whether my sister will find my diary and betray me to my crushes, but I do worry about whether I’ll be able to re-draft the paper that got rejected 2 weeks ago, and whether my idea in a newly-published piece will be legible to others.

It’s always good to hear that I’m not alone in these worries, and I loved listening to the words and coping strategies of my colleagues. Remi Holden said that he approaches writing like running: Finding time in his weeks for the short 20-minute sprint and for the 3-hour marathon training run. Mimi Ito pointed out that rejection can be an important “growth opportunity” if you can get into the frame of mind to see it that way. Dani Herro suggested breaking down collaborative work from the beginning (and I wholeheartedly second that advice).

There’s lots of amazing writing tips and ideas in the webinar and I’m certainly planning to try some of them out — if you have others, please add them in the comments? I’d love to hear what you think.

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