In 2016, when my two years as a postdoc in the environmental humanities at UCLA ended, I jumped off that post-ac cliff—and found that I was still walking on the ground. Unfortunately for my vitamin D levels and fortunately for my finances, that ground was a sidewalk along a well-potholed street in Indianapolis rather than well-heeled Westwood Avenue. Since then, my spouse and I have been making a life here, and I’ve been living at least one of my dreams: working one-on-one with writers whose research and scholarship I admire.
I’m starting this blog to share the ways of approaching the writing process that I’ve learned and developed through my work with writers, first as an instructor in the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison while I was earning my PhD in English there, and since I put out my virtual shingle as an independent writing consultant and editor three years ago.
What I have to say can be loosely organized into 7 principles that will run through this blog:
1. Show up. Kindness is an antidote for avoidance.
2. Throw down. Whole ass it. Have an authentic process through which you follow your curiosities, learn, and change your mind.
3. Let it be messy. By which I mean, let both the process of writing a draft and the sentences in that draft be messy. A recursive and unruly process is, I think, often the best and sometimes the only way to produce a good draft.
4. Talk. There’s an old Writing Center saw, “Every writer needs a reader.” In fact, every writer needs as many readers as she can get before a piece is published.
5. Revise. Revisit and rethink. Keep coming back. Don’t throw it all out necessarily, but be open to radically reshaping.
6. Give back. Writing is a generous act.
7. Give up. Bite the bullet. Call a halt and send it out.
I’m also starting this blog to find out what I might learn from regular public writing—and from practicing what I preach. At this point in the evolution or devolution of the internet, starting this type of “evergreen content” blog is the most banal possible thing one can do, but for me it’s terrifying. Yet sharing work—whether discussing a draft with friends, colleagues, or a writing group, or submitting an article for peer review and publication—is something I encourage other writers to do all the time.
There’s a careful balance between thorough preparation, research, and due diligence, on one hand, and, on the other, taking the leap of sharing a draft despite the fact that you’re nervous about it and could spend the next four months doing more research.
It’s a balance that I try to help the writers I work with strike—and given that I consult for the most part with women in academia, often my role involves encouraging such writers to let go, to put their work out there, to take the next step, because they already have naysaying voices—often far too many—in their heads urging caution. I try to help writers tell the difference between the times when they do need to do more research or reading, take a deeper dive, be careful—and the times when they need to move forward despite groundless anxieties that might be holding them back.
I have trouble striking the balance between caution and sharing myself. I struggle with the shyness, fear of failure, and learned aversion to risk-taking that are too common among those of us brought up female.
But the point of this blog is that I’ve got to walk the walk. I’m not always great at taking my own writing advice, or sticking by my own work in the way I encourage the writers I work with to stick by theirs. I tend to start lots of projects, in many different genres, and feel, at least, like I never finish any of them, though I have finished a dissertation and published some academic articles.
Through this venture, I’m going to try sharing some of what’s been accumulating in my Scrivener binder. It’s a leap for me, but it’s a slow and long-prepared one.
Despite the time pressures of tenure clocks and other such academic hoops, one of the secret pleasures of a regular writing habit is that you get to savor the slowness of the process. Academic writing and academic publishing are in fact really, really slow—necessarily so. Let’s go for a walk around the block and enjoy it.