My Experience with Writing: Struggles, Victories, Lessons Learned (By Emily E. Schmitt, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)

 

 My Experience with Writing:  Struggles, Victories, Lessons Learned

By Emily E. Schmitt, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant

 

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” –Frederick Douglas

 

Many discussions with peers have lead me to believe this quote can sum up most of a graduate student’s writing life.  Struggles turn into lessons learned and lessons learned lead to major victories.  

 

Struggles:

One of the hardest things I have come to realize is I am a writer.  Just saying the phrase, “I am a writer” still brings a certain amount of anxiety.  You see, growing up I loved math and science.  I constantly got lost outside playing with worms, bugs, and anything I could pull apart to figure out how it worked.  From an early age I knew I wanted to become a scientist.  I was an active kid who rarely ever sat down with a book – yet alone paper and pencil.  Sure, my mom tried to get me to sit still and write and practice spelling, but I preferred complicated math problems and exploring the earth.  Unfortunately, my struggles to sit still and write as a little kid carried over into adulthood. 

 

I suppose my life has turned out the way I imagined.  I am working on PhD at one of the top research institutions in the U.S. and researching complicated science concepts.  Yet, on a daily basis I am expected to write?!  I fought this idea for a few months pretending I could get by working in the lab and solving complicated math problems. 

 

I never enjoyed writing, never thought I was good at it, and have basically tired to avoid it at all costs.  However, that blissful ignorance could not (and did not) last forever.  I was fortunate enough to have mentors who took the time to explain to me how important writing was to my scientific career.  If I want to be good at science, I must be good at writing.  It took some time to accept this reality.

   

Victories:

It is true that the sweetest victories come out of struggles, and victories in writing are no different.  For instance, receiving grant funding or publishing a paper are examples of victories in writing.  Grants and published papers are validation to a scientist that they are on the right track and advancing their careers.  Career advancement in science comes from doing good science, but more importantly, it is a result of good writing.  The importance of writing in science finally clicked around year 2 of my PhD program.  This is typically the time one is expected to find funding for his/her projects, publish papers, and come up with future project ideas.  The only way to accomplish this…is…to…WRITE!  When one accomplishes these goals it makes all the staring at a blank computer screen and doubtful writing moments worth it.

 

Lessons Learned:

First and foremost, practice writing.  Nothing gets worse with practice – remember that!  Also, keep track of time spent writing via some form of log.  On weeks when you feel zero motivation to sit down at the computer (or notebook) and write, just look at your log of time spent writing.  You will notice that you have accomplished more than you may have realized.  Hopefully, this motivates you to continue.  Next, know that every piece of writing you produce does not have to be “perfect”.  In fact, it is nearly impossible to produce perfect writing every time.  As long as progress is made – that is all we can and should hope for!

 

In brief, keep writing.  I hope you realize that you do not have to have “natural born” talent to be a writer, author, and accomplished researcher.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, but overcoming the weaknesses might be easier than you think if you try to progress through the struggle!