Last week in faculty groups we discussed Robert Boice’s statement, quoted and expanded upon by Wendy Belcher, that
Those who wrote in regular, unemotional sessions of moderate length completed more pages, enjoyed more editorial acceptance, were less depressed and more creative than those authors who wrote in emotionally charged binges.
The words we focused on here were “unemotional” versus “emotionally charged.” I’ll blog more about emotion and how it gets in the way (especially in author-editor relationships) in a future post, but for the time being it makes sense to think about how to step away from it in a writing session. From brushing your teeth to bagging the trash to driving to work every day, we do things unemotionally that we may not be objectively inclined to enjoy… yet somehow writing often falls into the “do I feel like it” category. Learning to de-emotionalize writing sessions can make a world of difference, and can vastly improve mood as well as output. My friend Christy from grad school–channeling an old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial–used to say it was “Time to make the doughnuts” again.
This summer I promised to blog about the book The Now Habit, by Dr. Neil Fiore. In a lovely passage, he writes of “Elaine,” a high-achieving woman who struggled with performance anxiety and procrastination. “The mere thought of even a minor error caused her hours, often days, of panic and anxiety.” She came from an accomplished family with an “alphabet soup” of degrees from top universities, and she internalized the pressure to be perfect. When Fiore asked her about her sense of innate worth:
[S]he was dumbfounded. ‘How can worth be innate?’ she asked. ‘Where will it come from if it doesn’t come from what I do?’ When I asked her about those less capable than herself, she had to admit that they had worth and deserved respect in spite of their inability to perform as well as she, but it was difficult for her to apply a similar level of generosity to herself.
The solution for Elaine was to learn to remind herself of her worth whenever she made a mistake, and forgive herself. I would venture that we might benefit from making these reminders concrete and visible. For example, if you receive a peer review from a journal submission that does not recommend publication, stop first and write down a simple statement reminding yourself of this essential humanity and worth. I’m not a big fan of artificial affirmations (our subconscious minds and inborn sense of satire can see right through them), but a plain statement of truth is often effective.
We want to think that our academic struggles are of vital importance to the world, but when we look big-picture we realize how small we are, and forgiving ourselves for minor missteps becomes easier.
An author once said it was no surprise to him when stalwart public figures got caught doing the opposite of what they preached (for example the financial expert who is found to be in deep debt and embezzling, or the hellfire abstinence preacher who is having a secret affair). He said these extreme behaviors were flip sides of the same personality coin: one almost predicted the other.
So it seems to be in one of the books I’m blogging this summer, The Now Habit, when author Neil Fiore examines workaholism as the flip side of procrastination. These are people who “treat all tasks as urgent while avoiding the few, priority projects that contribute to the bottom line and the satisfaction of doing something meaningful.” This model parallels one in the Franklin-Covey program, with its emphasis on discovering “what matters most” in life (family, friends, faith, and meaningful work, all in proper order), while vanquishing the tyranny of urgent but unimportant tasks that can crowd an unplanned day.
So can a workaholic who feels busy, busy, busy really be a closet procrastinator? It would seem so. I ran this idea by yesterday’s faculty scholarly publishing groups and most were in agreement… we’ll see what today’s groups have to say.