Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Recently I have been trying to get material together for a book proposal that I am trying to submit (as second author to my former PhD advisor). And I am experiencing, in all the worst forms, the hallmarks of writer's block and procrastination.

Each time I look at what I have written, and what I know have to clean up, and I cringe. I know that it's partly just that I'm so close to the work. but it's also that I keep finding things to fix. Problems little and small, and by the time I've cleared away a whole bunch of little problems, I decide to rewrite the whole thing from scratch, thus creating a whole new set of little problems that need fixing.

I feel like I completely rewrote the cove letter something like six or seven times before I came to a draft that I stuck with and refined. But today I was reading a book that made me think that I should revise yet once again.

I'm not going to, though. By virtue of having a co-author, and a senior one at that, I have the opportunity to just trust his judgement and stop rewriting. It may be that he's wrong, but it's a good lesson in learning to let myself stop revising eternally.

Really, all I'm trying to do, as I struggle with the difficulty of letting go of my own imperfect work, is to accept the possibility of rejection ahead of time: my life does not depend on this.

As a writer--especially as an academic writer--one has to be able to withstand the blow of a rejected work. One has to be able to look at a work that is not good enough--for whatever reason it has been deemed not good enough--and to say "I can make it better." Even better is when, by learning through the feedback (even if the feedback is just bare rejection), we are able to look at ourselves and say "I can learn to improve how I handle this."

If we can do that--if we are ready to take the worst feedback we can get--then it's much easier to write.

This seems terrifying, I know. Imagine, for example, that the worst possible feedback would be for a committee to say "you should no longer be enrolled in our school." Can you imagine what kind of paper it would take to get such feedback? Can you imagine getting that feedback if you never turned in anything at all? (That's a rhetorical question: actually, if you never turn anything, you'll be more quickly asked to leave than if you're turning in almost anything moderately careful.) So if your fear is rejection, and this is keeping you from writing--struggle with that fear, but put it under you: the fear is more likely to lead to a bad result than taking a chance.

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