A Simple “Fix” for an Unproductive Season in Writing (By Priscila Caçola, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Consultant Alumna)

 

A Simple “Fix” for an Unproductive Season in Writing

By Priscila Caçola, Ph.D., P.O.W.E.R. Consultant Alumna

Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, University of Texas at Arlington
 

I am a relatively successful academic writer. I am currently a second-year Assistant Professor in an intensive, high-research institution. I publish regularly and I have been led to believe that I am doing what is expected of me in my tenure-track position. In other words, I am good to go. I absolutely adore what I do and I am doing it well, so far. So far so good then, right?

 

Nope. Unfortunately, not even close. Why? Because I still struggle with writing. Even though I know, and use, most principles I have learned with POWER, I actually suffer more now than when I was a grad student. Obviously that is not completely unreasonable, considering that writing is not only a way to get through grad school anymore, it is actually my job and the biggest percentage of what I do (or should be doing) every day.

 

But, before you think this is just another “poor me” story, I know I am not alone in this struggle. During the last year, the cycle of suffering and guilt in my work life has been stronger than ever. It is analogous to the frustrations of somebody who is trying to lose weight. More often, when a person realizes they put on some weight, or are overweight, they feel bad and end up eating even more. There is no rational thinking, just emotions acting out. Writing works just like it - at some point, you feel bad because you have not been productive or as productive you would like, and you find even more excuses not to write.

 

But the reason why I am writing this post, really, is because I believe I found a way to deal with this situation. It does not work all the time, but it is bringing me some peace – and a little more of productivity! As cheesy as it sounds, I am learning how to accept this struggle. Writing is difficult. It is one of the most difficult things in life, because there is no prototype for the final product. And you cannot be at your “peak” all the time. Geez - Is there anything in life more difficult than writing?

 

The point is, there will be times in your career that you just get into an “unproductive” season. And, as long as this season is “healthy” and planned accordingly, I am starting to think that it is actually possible to take advantage of the situation. How? By doing things that can help us prepare for the next “productive” season that will, eventually, come around. Here is one little example – even though I did not really “deserve” a vacation, I recently took one anyway because well, I just knew I was not going to do anything productive otherwise. I was suffering over a paper I had to write and did not know what perspective to take, or how to explain my data. I was totally immersed in the “cycle” of unproductivity -> guilt -> more unproductivity for weeks and weeks.

 

My vacation involved driving to a national park to mainly do something I love: Hiking. I hiked several days and had a heck of a time. I did not feel guilty while doing it, instead, I allowed myself to enjoy the trip. During the last day, as I’m all alone in a mountain descending a difficult trail, an interesting thought came up: What if I take this direction on this paper? I stopped and looked around to see if a bear or a mountain lion would come out from behind the brushes. Wait a minute: Could it be that my mind, after so many days of wandering, just showed me the way for that paper? I guess we could say I had an “AHA” moment. Not trying to, not even thinking about it, it just came to me. Apparently, I needed to step out of the cycle to realize what I should do with that paper. The result? I came home and could not wait to get on that paper!

 

This circumstance has been helping me deal with guilt immensely – well, I definitely do not know if I will be able to go hiking every time I need an “AHA” moment, but hey, I can do other things instead of “just” suffering. I will only be able to stop the cycle if I accept I am in the middle of it, and I allow myself to find a way out. Personally, I’m hoping this “way out” will always involve some hiking. But of course, please be advised: This might work only if you do not have immediate deadlines! ç