By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings, Writing
Many of my coaching clients are tenure-track women faculty who revere me as “senior scholar.” They think, by now, I’m implacable in the face of writing assignments. For some reason, they ascribe to the myth (founded by 1950s era white boy academics) that writing anxiety manifests as an individual malady one overcomes the longer one stays in the game.
These colleagues seem to need to believe there comes an end to worrying over word counts and due dates. The fallacy seems to drive them toward professional longevity; it inspires them to stay in the game until they, too, one day magically turn the corner and their fingers whisk rhapsodically over keyboards, turning out pages of stunning prose.
The lie of the mythical Unflappable Senior Scholar, at least as embodied in our humble narrator, lay exposed last month at the July 2017 Inkwell residential retreat, founded by the intrepid Michelle Boyd. In the days before the retreat I fretted aloud to my Baby that I wouldn’t know any of the other participants in the retreat. I worried about the size of my goal for the week, which on alternate days seemed too big, then too small.
We’d been warned (some said reassured) that the internet service at the retreat site would be spotty. Would I be able to lug every book and printout I was sure I needed? I went out to buy a portable printer, just in case, but there was none to be had at the local Office Max on the night before my departure.
Suffice it to say, I had a case of nerves, about both my own writing acumen and my embarrassing introversion (which most colleagues who’ve witnessed my public deportment disdain until they catch me hugging the walls at the conference cash bar).
Tucked immediately into the warmth of two other Inkwell retreat alums, I earned their trust on the first morning, in part by baring my soul about my writing jitters and even more by listening to the wisdom of the most accomplished of the trio of us. Quite literally, she turned my writing conundrum upside down and illumined what turned out to be the most intelligent approach imaginable to set me up for the week. The other reassured me by acknowledging her own goal as similar to mine, by happenstance.
At lunch on the second day, two other retreaters remarked my steady and intense work, and admired aloud how easily I stepped into “the zone.” I couldn’t deny I had slid easily into my work. The two aforementioned gifts had worked their magic: a seasoned sister’s perception and a buddy with a similar need and a similar drive.
Which is to say, I had jitters but—maybe here’s what feeds the myth of One Day You, Too:-- I also had long years of experience to trust my gifts and my conviction. That is, I found conviction after many years of persisting through writing anxiety.
And I trusted my conviction, borne of numerous challenges to it, that routinely surfing the urge to run from the laptop, and scrupulously working the details of my outline, would keep me in the proverbial zone. Opening to an outline I promised myself I could revise “as needed” had further sustained my confidence.
On the last afternoon of the retreat, my buddy stunned me with her variation of the much-needed One Day, I Too myth. I had begged to sit next to her, for security, and my elbow was literally touching hers as we worked up our individual plans for next steps once the retreat ended. I had begged her, and she’d been merciful. We were head and nose down, fingers flying, when she sat back and announced something like, “You are so cool as you write! It’s great to see you never have writing anxiety.” Seriously?! Did I say begged?
I stood up. Hold up! “What do you mean I never have writing anxiety?! I have it on the regular. By the hour. In fact, where’s my watch?! Is it time to panic yet?!”
Behold the myth, yet never believe the hype.
Until next time,
*Shout out to JA, MB, BF, CS, and IW.