Writing is, and should be, a major part of what I do as an academic. But much/most of what I write is not “consumed” nor seen by a general audience, this being comments, class blog posts and emails to students or colleagues. There is also a lot of reading that goes into the job as well, but that’s a discussion for another time (and also discussed a couple of years ago). Also lots of “thinking”…but you only really get “credit” for thinking when it results in something tangible, which usually means written.
So, my basic problem is that I haven’t been doing a sufficient amount of visible-to-the-world writing to feel good about myself as an academic/scholar/writer for the past few years. This “problem” can be dealt with in a number of different ways – for instance, by changing one’s expectations for what a “reasonable” level of output might be through a realistic assessment of one’s priorities and the external demands on one’s time – but it seems obvious that one way out of the situation is to, you know, just write more!
The cure for writer’s block, in other words, is writing.
The core problem with not writing is that, for me, it begets more not writing. I guess this is what gets called writer’s block. Or, more precisely, perhaps this is how writer’s block manifests itself as an actual mechanism for me. It is a self-reinforcing cycle whereby not “publishing” in a public place (or, a place that could be publicly accessed, even if most of the public doesn’t see or care to see) creates more internal resistance to/fear of working toward that goal. Even on this blog I run into it: I don’t post for a long time and this, in my mind, raises the “stakes” for the next post (e.g. “he doesn’t touch BB for a year and he comes back with this shit?”). Sitting for too long on my dissertation research, to take another example, without publishing directly from it only raises – in my own mind – the stakes for how “good” it must be when I, in theory, finally do publish from that research (e.g. “this crappy article is what he waited eight years to publish?!”).
From the perspective of just getting stuff written and out there, regardless of quality, this is obviously a dead end.
There is a nearly infinite amount of talk out there about writing, and I will no doubt write a bit about that here on BB (meta!). For now I’d like to bring up the classic notion of the “three drafts”, the first of which is most germane. The first draft – or, the “shitty” first draft as I have often heard it – is crucial if, for no other reason, one can’t take the other steps without it! This is, essentially, what I will try to use Bliggity Blog for in the coming year: a publicly visible, shitty first draft on many of the things occupying my mind during the day. Hopefully it won’t be too shitty (so maybe it’s like the 1.5 draft, given how much real-time editing goes on when I’m typing things up) and hopefully it will cover some issues of interest to my various constituencies.
But, behind that manifest, obvious function is a more powerful latent one as well: forcing me to just get words out there.
If writer’s block is cured by writing, I will proceed as if all writing is writing. Blogging “counts” just as much as writing emails to friends, which counts just as much as drafting an academic article, grant proposal or scholarly correspondence. My hunch(hope?) is that the not writing begets more not writing cycle can be run in reverse: writing begets writing. Putting more words down, wherever they may be put, makes it easier to put even more down, so that, up to a point, writing frequently may merely make it easier to write more! That’s the hope at least.