Don’t fix your Writing, Fix Your Attention
Well of course we want to fix our writing. That’s part of writing. But it’s not the first place our attention should be going.
That’s putting the cart before the horse. Before we go tackling the big challenges that show up in the content and form of our writing, we need to be grounded in effective attention first.
And this can be counter-impulsive. We see problems, or lots of problems, right as we are writing. Our attention is plugging power into the go-in-and-fix-the-writing temptation.
Like, we need to organize and structure that rambling mess… we need to get in there and spice up that “boring” argument, etc.
So it is a counter-impulsive move to take a step back, and look at our writing process rather than its content to find solutions.
But this step is the most powerful step you can make. Rather than focus on what you are writing, focus on how you are writing, and how that fits in your life as well, and more often than not you can pull an end-around on your nastiest writing challenges. You arm yourself with a power you did not have before.
So this post is about power. It’s about the empowerment you get when you turn away from your writing content to your writing process. There are things we can fix there that pay off many, many times over down the road.
And many of these things have to do with attention.
There are 5 tasks you can do right now to adjust your attention in your writing process to empower your writing.
- You have to make writing a priority and not fit it in if and when you have time. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it-step. Every day you should identify 1-3 realistic things you want to accomplish for the day, and on most days, a specific task related to your writing should be one of these things.Too many goals and trying to fit too many things into a day doesn’t work. Most of us are trying to do too much, have too many priorities, have unrealistic expectations, and in fact don’t really know what our priorities are for the day.We also need periodic goals. What are we trying to accomplish in the next week. What are our 3 goals for the month? You are not a writer if a writing goal isn’t in your top 3 priorities for the next month. What are our goals for the year? And what are our goals for the next 5 years? Get clear about these and write them down.
- Get out of screen purgatory. Mindulness of screen-time is a must for almost every academic writer I have ever seen. Don’t just open the laptop without knowing exactly why you are doing it and what you are there to do.There are very few successful people who open email first thing in the morning. Use internet blocking programs. Turn off the phone. Do not open the web browser. Leave your writing file open on your computer so that you see it first thing. The key here is conscious use of the screen—know what you are there to do and do that first.
- Similarly, ban (on occasion) all research, preparation, and consultation of sources. Obviously it can’t always be that way, but you can train in having pure writing sessions that are strictly defined. On regular occasions we must practice reference, reading, and citation-free writing sessions. This reverses that habit of constantly checking this or that source, which then inevitably leads to reading a bit, and then maybe consulting one more related thing, and next thing you know you wake up two hours later way down the rabbit hole.This can become a nasty habit, one that can be worse than screen purgatory, because it feels justified. Yes, we academic writers do need to prepare and read, and also to write sometimes tacking back and forth between our texts and others’. But don’t let that be an excuse or habit that prevents you from really taking off and flying. You’ll have to put down those crutches on regular occasions if you want to get a running start to take off and fly.
- Just Say Maybe! For other projects and agendas that people are trying to get you in, use some form of maybe as the first response. There are so many good things we could do with our life and with our potentials. And in an academic lifestyle often we are asked to do so many things. We have to learn the art of saying no. But as right as that sounds, it’s not easy to do in practice. So instead, master the art of maybe by just saying “I have to think about it” or “I have to check to see if I can do it” or the like.This gives you a cooling off period. We are all great people who only want the best for everyone and the world. So when people ask us to do all these good things, our first impulse is to give a big fat juicy yes! That’s a really good thing about you. But instead of going for the instant gratification of the yes that feels so good, put a delay on it. Maybe they won’t follow up with you. Or maybe you’ll tell them, “Your idea is so great and you need someone who can devote more time to it than I can.” Or maybe you will say yes. But at least you had the cooling off period.
- Don’t be the only one. When you are alone with your writing problems there is no better breeding ground for perfectionism, for fear of sucking, and for thoughts and perceptions to take on a life and consequence of their own, unchecked. Of course it may not be such a great idea to pour your heart out to your advisor or colleague. It really depends. But reach out and find others to talk to about your challenges and how things are going.It helps if those others really get what you are going through and that can only happen if they are doing similar work. Your best friend the chef or lawyer is great to talk to because she’s your friend, but you need to also be in contact with other writers talking about your writing challenges. Don’t keep your attention to writing bottled up inside the tunnel of your aloneness.Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great thing that we are built with these private thought-worlds where we can entertain anything and no one will know. A place for our attention to rest in a limited and secret way. It’s fun to be such a creature! But it’s not the only way of exercising our attention, and our writing problems can become mountainous if we keep the energy of our attention to them all locked up in our aloneness.
Take these 5 steps and your academic writing potential will materialize before your eyes. Holding this rudder steady will get you there.
And if you want to ensure that the rudder stays steady and your writing gets finished, consider joining our writing group at the Academic Muse Bootcamp where dissertations, articles, and books are getting done. Put all the right things together into a system, and everything works. Please join us—registration closes on Midnight, Sunday Feb. 1st.