Rekindling the academic mojo

It’s been months, three and a half to be precise, since I donned my magical cape and attempted to write in Academic Voice. I reference magic because for me, academic writing tends to be half inspiration, half procrastination, and half really freaking boring. Thus, magic usually helps the process along. Like taking a walk with my advisor, Elaine, while writing my thesis. Those four miles around McKinley Park sparked the hook I needed to tie my analysis together in a pretty, smart bow. Or cooking Black Bean Tortilla Casserole tonight and finding more flecks of genius amid the chop-chop-chopping of onion and garlic.

The epiphanies are not without pain, however. I’ve tortured myself for the last couple weeks trying to write up my workplace friendships study. While collecting data, I found the subject absolutely riveting. During the coding process I had so many “Ah ha!” moments, I just about made myself sick. But then the writing part came.

I cleaned the apartment. I organized my email folders. I blogged about the email. I created lesson plans. I went to Costco with my roommate. I talked to Mr. T. A lot.

I did everything. Except write.

Part of the issue was simply rust. It’d been a few months and I was out of practice. I second guessed my starts and pretty soon, I stopped making them. It occurred to me at some point, that I haven’t actually written up that many studies, and I pondered that revelation for a good bit.

Upon making no progress, I thought: Ooo, let’s edit the lit review because that will be FUN.

So I pulled out my professor’s edited version from last fall and promptly wanted to cry. There were comments on every other line. Questions, critiques. At one point I thought she was going to write “WTF???” but instead she limited herself to “Arggh!” Yes, “Arggh!” on one of my papers.

In a spiral of writing shame, I mentally transformed each of those “Explains” and “Tell me mores” and “So whats?” into questions like: “Are you sure you belong in this program?” and “How did you ever get in here anyway?”

Yeah, pathetic, I know.

And then… I sucked it up and started to write. As I re-oriented myself to the edits, I saw that with the exception of the well-deserved “Arggh!”, all of the comments served to hone and sculpt the lit review into a cohesive story to support my study. The notes to explain and clarify weren’t critiques of my character, but actually incredibly useful opportunities to expand and organize my thoughts. Apparently that’s what good teaching is about, right?

So, at the end of the day, I’m still not finished with the paper (the genius flecks just came a few minutes ago), but I’m closer. And I have a much better perspective on the writing process and the purpose of damn seminar papers in grad school. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and not giving up in a pool of self-loathing will definitely make better papers.


Photo source here.

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