My love/hate relationship with writing – mostly hate

Let me start off by saying I always enjoyed one style of writing, creative and freestyle writing. Therefore I actually enjoyed creating this first blog post and saying whatever came to mind. Yet after years of producing countless structured papers in university, I have somewhat lost the creative spark I developed from my creative writing class in grade 11. Even writing this blog post I was unsure of how creative and humorous I should be. I suppose after having my work judged and evaluated by some of the smartest individuals in Canada, I have resorted to writing seriously and just sticking to the point. I remember my grade 12 english teacher giving me my final mark and advising me that I “probably should not take an english writing course in university”, then forcing out an awkward laugh. However, I ignored her advice and took a couple english courses in my first two years of undergrad and finished with grades of A. I knew then to trust myself and my work habits, yet always seek help when it is needed. I am aware that I am not the greatest writer, and though I have good ideas and arguments, I often struggle to express them. And let me tell you, the struggle is real.

When I write for a class assignment, mainly an end of term paper, I try to start it as soon as possible. While this does not always happen, when it actually does I feel a little more confident that I will create something extraordinary because I will have the time to fix what I see as unfit. However, on countless occasions I spend the last 24 hours before the due date rereading my paragraphs, rereading my sources, rereading my numerous scribbled notes, and just wishing the whole ordeal would end. As I write this introductory paragraph I am wondering to myself, why does this always happen? And is there a better way to write? I know there is, and I truly hope I find it.

I wish to give my writing process the therapy that it deserves, so therefore to try to treat my writing troubles I must first identify them as they appear in my writing process. I have already mentioned the first step, starting early, which is then followed by scribbling down a brief bullet-point outline. This outline helps to map out my main thoughts, arguments, and supporting evidence. I then build on these thoughts and attempt to write my first draft. Sometimes I will start writing from the beginning and work my way to the conclusion, while other times I will build it piece by piece in no particular order. I have found that both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Writing random sections allows me to focus on my favourite arguments first and the more dreaded points later. On the other hand, writing from introduction to conclusion creates a better flow since I am connecting my points as I go, instead of attempting to piece parts together at the end. Plus, finishing my least favourite sections early gives me a real sense of accomplishment and takes weight off of my shoulders.

Writer’s block hits me hard at the start, this is when I sit down and start typing. “Okay, I have an outline and an idea for my argument…now what?”. And I sit there thinking and thinking, writing one line here and another there, hoping they will meet up at some point. I also become stuck when I approach the conclusion, my biggest challenge is summarizing everything I have said without sounding redundant and instead writing something that sounds….well profound and smart. Going out with a bang.

This issue of ‘sounding smart’ plagues me greatly throughout the writing and editing processes. One of my habits involves highlighting words or phrases which I consider to be poor or unclear. Most of the time these are words which do not say exactly what I am thinking or I simply believe I can choose a better or smarter word. However, my initial poor choice of word discourages me from searching for a new one at that moment, therefore instead of fixing it immediately, I highlight and save that task for later. My reason for this is that I prefer to write very roughly at first and edit later, not doing two jobs at once and tiring myself out. Writing and editing are scheduled on separate days because I believe in having a fresh mind when starting a new task.

Having a fresh mind definitely helps when I approach the issue of ‘infinite references’. With access to numerous journals from the library and articles from google scholar, the number of sources that may support my arguments is overwhelming. I cannot count the number of times I have sat at my computer for 2-3 hours just going through my sources and their references, and their partners’ work, and their references, and not writing a word in my paper.  A majority of the academics I research discuss the same topic and make the same arguments, but I always think that if I look in depth at their work I may find something unique which I can use.  Therefore, one of the hurdles which slows down my writing process is searching through endless streams of ideas and never knowing when to stop reading.

Eventually when I do say enough, I stop reading and take a moment to breath. I confess, I say ‘stop’ to myself quite a bit during my entire writing process. Brainstorming, writing, referencing, and editing can only be done for so long with my easily distracted mind. But if I do accomplish a sufficient amount of work in one sitting, I like to reward myself. Sometimes with a snack or tea, a chat with a friend, a little Netflixing (often ‘little’ turns into 3 hour movie), or a trip to the gym (in this situation I think the gym is a reward, that is how much I dislike writing at times). Now, the trouble for me is that these distractions are available all the time and they are so very tempting when I am hitting my head against the wall trying to think of something to type. They are both a blessing (reward for working hard) and a curse (reward when I am trying to work hard). I am easily distracted by almost everything when I sit down to read an article/book or write a paper. One method I use is bargaining with myself: I could write for three hours straight, or I could write for two hours then procrastinate and relax for an hour, and then finish up that last hour of writing after. “I will have time” is something I always say to myself, yet I never do have enough time. If I choose to relax halfway through my day then I always lose precious working time later. Eventually everything I planned to finish gets pushed back until it gets closer to the deadline. This is where the real stress comes in.

I have to admit, some of my best writing has occurred during ‘crunch times’ or at the late hours of the night. It is as if the stress has given me the adrenaline to break through my writer’s block.  If I go slow the blocks can easily be placed in front of me and it can be hours until I figure a way around them, but if I go fast I can get past them before they even appear. The last writing block appears when I have run out of things to edit or perfect. It is difficult for me to decide when something I have created is not only complete, but also valuable. This is when having that second party becomes incredibly helpful. Having a friend or two read and pick out flaws I never considered helps me get through many of the challenges I have outlined in this blog post. But on the day before the deadline, likely my editing partner is finishing up work of their own, so this is when I undergo countless cycles of reading and rereading my myself. I edit and reread until my head hurts, and finally when I cannot find any more ways to improve my arguments, I create my title page and print that paper.

You would think after years of writing I would have found the best methods which limited the amount of times writer’s block appeared…sadly I have not.  Establishing a good writing process for myself has actually become an ongoing process on its own. I continue to try new tactics to encourage good writing habits (e.g. rewarding myself with a tasty snack every time I finish a page), or enhancing my focus (e.g. trying new types of tea which are advertised to enhance awareness and focus). Once I get my writing groove back, I truly feel better about the length, style, strength, and overall quality of my finished product. And this feeling always comes back for everything I write. The struggle to get it back, however, is something I hope to overcome in the near future. Especially when I have that future thesis of mine making its way nearer every day.

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2 thoughts on “My love/hate relationship with writing – mostly hate

  1. Beatrice

    Your struggle with having a series of disconnected points and hoping they will meet up also plagues my writing process. I also experience writer’s block when I look at what I’ve created as see more of an outline than a connected essay. I often fill the gaps between meaningful phrases with stupid, semi-funny quips that are completely devoid of content (to my horror I’ve left a couple of these gems in place for a few lucky TAs) with a similar intention of replacing these phrases with ‘smart sounding’ content. This harkens back to a high school love for creative writing that I also shared. Somehow, my writing flows better and is less painful when I’m able to create rather than connect. Do you think an academic writer can employ a more creative voice in their writing? I wonder if we can experience some of the joys we associate with creative writing by writing less ‘serious’ academic prose. Or do you think that this would distract from the content? I’m not sure what it means to have a unique voice in academic writing. In this context, does voice simply refer to the content we convey, or could it refer to elements of creativity in our style of delivery? Do you have any insights?

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  2. Taylor

    “Sounding smart”… what an underestimated writing blockade. This is something that in reality I get unnecessarily hung up on when writing papers. You mention you are at least wise enough to highlight and move on, I have yet adopt such intelligent methods. Instead, I find myself writing a sentence or paragraph, realizing I sound like a madman, and rewriting (repeat this process more times then I would like to admit). This is because when I write I dive straight into a full draft, (regrettably) forgoing a real rough draft. When writing its just to easy to get caught up thinking how it might be read, Brett discussed this in his blog (https://paleobaron.wordpress.com/) in terms of how anxiety can interfere with our writing. Seeing that adopting a proper rough draft approach, highlighting these questionable words or phrases, is another means to cope with issues of sounding smart is reassuring. Having been reflecting on my personal writing process lately, this is something I hope to work towards! I am curious though, do you find this issue (sounding smart) occurs in all your writing, or particularly in writing outside your particular field? I find it occurs with all my writing, which makes me wonder if I will ever really sound smart enough!

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