Hello! I have not written a post here since August 2022. It has been way too long. The truth, though, is that I have really struggled to create new posts. I have many things to write about, but all I really want to say when I sit down to write is that I am having a really hard time writing. And I can’t keep writing about how hard it is to write. So, I have stayed silent, I suppose, waiting for opportunities to create some space to get excited about blogging again, waiting for me to catch up with myself a bit after a couple of hard years, waiting for the words to find me. I have also been doing other writing – pieces that are finally lining themselves up to be published. But I miss writing these posts, this blog, the community it connects me with. So, here I am, hoping that as I type the words will come, and I’ll be brave enough to post them when they’re written.
One of the good and also not-so-good bits of being a career academic is the writing work it involves. There is a great deal of it, for a range of purposes. You write for publication, you write reports and papers for committees, you write to students and create reams of written feedback over the course of teaching a module or supervising a research project, you write to and for and with colleagues and peers. Some of this writing is not that hard to do or to think about; some of it takes a great deal of thinking and time and can prove really hard to do. If you are neurodivergent, as it seems I may actually be – a recent development – it can be even harder because the bigger and more demanding the task, the more difficult it is to both start and then finish it. Writing is a practice rather than some kind of skill, and the less you practice, the less robust your writing ‘muscles’ are. The logical response is, like exercise, to do it consistently to keep your muscles toned and ready to go. But this is not always as easy as it sounds.
I actually enjoy writing. I always have done. And I have always been pretty good at it. At finding words, at crafting narratives, at creating something new and pleasing to read (I hope). Being good at something is a wonderful thing, especially something you enjoy and that feels like a big part of who you are in the world. But being good at something can also make struggling with that thing harder when being good at it is not enough on its own to make sure the thing gets done. Being a good writer doesn’t actually make any of the reading, thinking, sharing, getting feedback and rethinking, etc. any easier. It really, for me, just means that when I am at a point where I’ve done enough of the reading and thinking work to make a start, the words don’t fight me for too long before they start making their way onto the pages and into sentences and paragraphs I am happy with. Currently, I have the concentration span of Dug from Up! which makes all the reading (which I need to help the thinking, so I can do the writing) really arduous.
After I finished my book in 2021, I moved to England, started a new job, lost my mum, and had to make some pretty big life adjustments. But I signed up for a few writing projects in 2021 and 2022 and so had to get back into writing again – journal articles, which I haven’t done for a while, and book chapters. Most of these are collaborative projects, which is lovely because I am not writing alone, and stressful because I have to stick to deadlines to avoid letting my collaborators down. I’ve been using all my mantras and all the tools in my writing toolbox to get this done. I have asked for extensions to deadlines, which I hate to do; I’ve asked for more help than usual, which I also hate to do. And I have forced myself to surround myself with a community and lean on them for support and kindness instead of telling myself, as I always have done, that I need to go it alone and pull myself together and press on.
The more I think about it and experience it, the more I realise how intertwined writing, teaching, researching, and adulting are. So much of what makes me a productive, happy writer, teacher, mentor and researching is what makes me a happy, productive adult. Learning how to balance pressing on and pushing through with pulling back and resting, learning how to ask for and accept help, learning how to say ‘no’ and set boundaries that protect me from burnout and overwhelm, learning my limits and quirks and working with rather than against myself, learning to be kind to myself – as kind as I try to be to my friends, peers and students. Maybe this is why I have been finding writing so hard of late – because I have been finding adulting quite hard too!
Ultimately, I am trying to be present to the moment I am in with my writing rather than looking back at projects that seem to have been easy in retrospect and wondering what is wrong with me now, or looking ahead to when these current projects might be finished. I am trying to be present to the trying, present for the shitty first drafts so I don’t try to shortcut this process, present for the days when the words flow and present for the days that are just a slog. I think this is what I need to do with my adulting work too: I need to be present to where I am today, not looking back to where I was when things felt easier or rewriting events that have already come and gone. Or looking ahead and daydreaming about what could be or might be around the bend. This is hard for me. My brain has never really liked the present very much and struggles to stay with it. But, as writing is a practice that gets easier the more you work at it, so, I hope, is adulting. And while practice does not make perfect when it comes to either, I think it does make it easier to live with the imperfections, to make your peace with good enough, and to keep moving forward.