5 Cures for the Nothing New to Say, Done Before Syndrome in the Academic Writer


Do You Get This Thought?

Your argument has been made before, or it’s obvious, or there is nothing original about the topic, and that maybe extends to you yourself, that maybe there is nothing about you that will cause them to pick you for publication, job, or tenure.

It can go all different ways, dragging us down.

It’s been done before, why should I bother?

      This particular thought is a killer, a crush-the-life-out-of-your-project-before-it-ever-gets-off-the-ground thought.

     Or it’s the walking pneumonia of shut-downers, lurking quietly in the background and then suddenly erupting into a full-blown attack when the time is right.

     This nasty little guest moves into the mind of the majority of writers I know, especially the human ones.

     It’s just something that is likely to get stirred up at some point when summoning creative effort. And it’s not just newbies.

     In fact the more you learn about your own discipline and others over the years, the more you see just how many people are out there speaking in the same tongues, and have been, over and over.

     It’s really what we do as writers, continue the conversation, and why we make sense to each other. There is just a whole lot that is held in common. The human is a remarkably obsessed creature.

     But instead of sensing this obsession as what is making the world ready to receive your work, it gets turned upside down into a problem, into our lack of uniqueness, “Nothing new to say.”

     This thought is literally (and by literally I mean figuratively) what sucks the oxygen out of your system. It’s one of the faster ways to die.

     Then you can’t breathe. You can’t move forward and create anything, or can’t finish something already started, because this thought moves in and occupies all the space.

     So when this happens you have to move other thoughts into that space.


5 Cures for Nothing New to Say

When that guest arrives, consider applying these potent 5 cures:

  1. Comparison is Quicksand. Don’t compare your drafts to others’ finished work! This mistake is happening all the time in academic writers. It’s truly strange that we don’t realize we are doing that, and it doesn’t make any sense to do so. Drafts must be drafts. It’s a guaranteed way to feel bad about your work.
  1. There is no one in the universe like you. What you’ve studied, what you’ve thought, what you’ve read, and everything else comes into a unique combination replicated nowhere else and at no other time ever. It is literally (and by literally, I mean literally) impossible for you to not have something new to say, because whatever you are saying, no has ever said it or will ever say it exactly the same way.
         When your thoughts go out into comparison and fears about what’s out there, the attention is distracted away from you, as you are, and where you are coming from. This is precisely the opposite direction that attention needs to go in when looking to instigate unique expression. Come back to your self and trust in that.
  1. Interest Multiplies. Realize there is more than enough interest to go around. Somewhere people are looking for what you want to write about. And you are the same.
         When you find an idea, a line of thought, a theoretical proposition or a particular topic that you really like, do you just buy one book on that? Read only one article? No— you go chasing the dragon, trying to relive the excitement of the first hit.
         Someone else’s success is a sign that the interest is out there, and if people like something, they want more.
  1. Grow, it’s what Writers Do. Just because you are not the best right now does not mean you won’t be some day. Everyone starts somewhere. And the same goes for ideas. They have to start somewhere and grow.
         From drafts to final versions, and from final versions to final versions over the course of a career, your ideas grow. And you grow. So not only don’t compare your drafts to finished works, but don’t compare yourself to the stars of your field. Everyone who did well had to grow into it.
  1. Choose what you love over what you fear. Don’t waste your life, nor waste the unique combination of circumstances that form the basis of everything that comes out of you. In this case, don’t be afraid to say something that’s “not new.” Let your passion and interest drive your work. Of course in writing (like dance, the other major artform that has a big element of worky-work-show-up-and-shut-up-and-do-the-workness to it), our passions and interest will wax and wane while we train. But all along we are making decisions and those need to stay true to our inspiration no matter where that leads us even if it is a similar place as others (which is not a bad thing, as I said). Your job as a writer is to keep that going, not assign a value to it.

    I love what Martha Graham has said about this. It’s so true about art but also, I have come to find, about everything else in life as well.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

     Staging a trial of yourself, and a verdict on your work, is not your job. It is not our work to either gather evidence in the trial of ourselves nor the trial of our writing.

     Our job is to keep the lamp lit and to just plain keep on going and keep on growing.

     There is no one exactly like you on the planet. The more we trust that this is true, with or without our opinion on the matter– that it is already taken care of– the more we will learn the lesson that our art has to teach us.

Related Post:

What am I trying to say? Don’t ask that!