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Writer’s Angst

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Readers, one thing I’ve learned about managing writer’s angst is that the only way to get past it is to just jump in and start writing. I’ve been wrestling with this on and off for several months. My concern is more about information management. I’m still in the midst of data gathering, yet I feel the need to get major chunks of the biography written already.

Also, I don’t want to write in one major direction, only to find critical data contrary to the point of view. I dislike the idea of reediting or trashing a section completely — and yet, that is, indeed, what the writing process entails! You’d think I’d have found a way to comfortable with this after 20 years of teaching writing! Alas, the struggle renews itself with each fresh project. That is the nature of dealing with the Writing Angst Beast.

This is one of the reasons I started Emmett’s book blog. It helps me think about where to go with Emmett’s story, it gives me a regular writing outlet, and it definitely helps keeps the procrastination demon in its cage. I’m sure I’m not alone with this issue. How do you manage writer’s angst?

A colleague has suggested this: Just get started. Whatever I create can and will be used in some part of telling Emmett’s story. None of it can be considered ‘wasted’ effort, because it is part of the draft process.

“And trust me,” she said, “there will be many drafts. You might as well get started.”

For what its worth, here are a few things I have done when faced with writer’s angst:

  • Schedule your writing. For myself, I need the discipline of a daily routine, and time block. If I don’t make writing a part of my everyday activities, I won’t do it. What has worked for me is to write for an hour at the very minimum.
  • Stay away from distractions. I do not check email first, and for sure, I stay away from Facebook, cell phone, online classrooms, and the like during this window. (This is actually a big struggle for me as a daily writer. I have to put the writing first, else it will not get done.)
  • Then, write. You can start with a blank page or screen (I don’t, I have to use notes), or, do the following (which counts, in my view, as daily writing):
    — Journaling/reflecting about the work-in-process
    — Editing a work- or article-in-progres
    — Brainstorming article or blog ideas
    — Drafting memos, story ideas, research concepts
    — Typing rough notes into organized pages
    — Summarizing notes and findings
    — Checking and/or reviewing sources and citations for accuracy
    — Outlining chapters or sections of chapters
    — Charting or creating a table of your data/notes
    — Updating and/or editing a research plan
    — Entering notes and citations into a bibliographic organizer (A comparison of free bibliographic organizers can be found here.)

I find that I do two or three different kinds of writing every day. For example, when I’m fresh in the morning (my best writing time), I’ll free-write a section of the biography. Usually I start by reviewing notes from the day before, then I launch into it. When I get tired, I’ll switch to outlining my notes, or I’ll set up an editing plan for the day. Also, I will switch to correspondence with colleagues or contacts who are helping me with my research. Talking about what I’ve done with them, and sharing ideas, or asking questions, helps tremendously.

I think what is most important in my own writing practice is that I hold myself accountable and record everything I’ve done on Emmett’s biography each day. Sometimes the entry is only about five or six lines long. In that entry, I often ask questions about my sources or jot ideas down about the next contact I need to make, or source I need to tap.

If anything, I have found this practice has made me more comfortable being around Emmett, if that makes sense. Learning about him and his issues has been a struggle, not just in understanding him as a person, but in becoming more at ease with life in general — and this is a topic for another entry. Regardless, telling Emmett’s story — the ‘journey’ of writing his story — is more than the process itself, and that’s the beauty of the writing struggle.


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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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