Emotional roller coaster of academic writing

Emotional roller coaster of academic writing

Many scientists, if not all, experience a myriad of emotions during the writing and publishing process. Some deal with it better than others, while some are just better at hiding what they’re going through. Either way, it’s totally normal and I’m here to give you some advice on how to manage this process. The idea is not to level out the roller coaster – emotions are a part of life and should not be avoided or labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The idea is to make you the driver of the roller coaster; to get you in the driver’s seat, if such a thing would exist on a roller coaster.

The publication process is especially emotion-ridden, since manuscripts and research topics are fair game for journal reviewers, who are not always eloquent, fair or objective. For non-article-based theses, the same problems still persist, as feedback is a crucial part of the thesis process. It might also be difficult to distinguish between criticism towards one’s work and criticism towards oneself as a human being.

A brilliant depiction of the publishing process by Katja Hölttä-Otto, Professor at Aalto University; https://twitter.com/HolttaOtto

Fear of the blank page

First of all, the blank page is terrifying. Emotions connected to this might stem from thoughts about one’s writing topic, ability to write or something completely unrelated might occupy one’s brain, making it impossible to know where to start. The thing is, it’s totally ok to be afraid of the blank page. Don’t fight the emotion, just accept it.

The best medicine for this is just to write. Like anything. Just put words after words. Jot down your thoughts. You can do it.

Another solution is to make a schedule for your writing that involves determining your goals and how to achieve them.

Paul Silva, author of the fantastic books “How to write a lot” and “Write it up”, says that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Instead of getting mad at him for saying such a thing, think about it. Essentially, saying that you can’t write because of writer’s block is saying you can’t write because you are not writing. Therefore, writer’s block is a dispositional fallacy: a description of behavior can’t also explain the described behavior. If you are struggling to write, the only cure is to write.

The perfectionist

Sometimes we might find it hard to write because we are afraid that the text is not perfect right away. If this is the case, it’s important to remind oneself that writing is a process and no one writes perfect text in the first draft.

I always say that you can’t edit something that isn’t there. If you haven’t written anything, there isn’t anything to edit. And while editing, you become a better writer and the text becomes clearer and more focused. So editing is essential for your development and progress. That being said, obviously at some point the editing has to stop and you have to let the text go.

Letting go of your text and of your thoughts about it

A fear that is also present in the academic writing process, is letting go of the text. Linked to this fear of letting go, might be thoughts and emotions about the quality of the text and the quality of oneself as a writer and researcher. We get too close to the text and to the process.

Remember: Your self worth is not determined by your work.

In this case, what you should do is observe and acknowledge the thoughts that you have about the text and about yourself as a writer of this text. Accept that you have these thoughts, but also recognize that they are not necessarily the truth. They are only thoughts. Once you have done this, you can try to let go of the thoughts. And at the same time let go of the text.

Getting feedback

Once the text has left your hands, you might sigh of relief and relax for a while. But as sure as winter, the reviews are coming. In order to not get crushed to the soul, the trick is to be prepared for this and to have compassion towards oneself and one’s reactions.

What I normally do (or did) when I got review comments back, was check the comments and then put them aside for a few days. Usually the emotional reaction was too strong to do anything about the reviews right away. After a few days, my brain had processed the incident and was ready in problem-solving mode. This was my way. You have to find your way. But the important thing to remember is that the reviewers are not Gods, they can be wrong, they are not critiquing you personally, and it’s totally ok to be mad or get sad because of the comments. Again, all emotions are allowed and accepted.

When you take a step back and get some distance between yourself and the comments/reviewers, you might notice that it helps you focus on the content instead of on the emotional reaction to the content. The reviewers are (ideally) there to help you improve your manuscript and they are focusing on your research.

I’m great! I suck…

In every writing process there comes a time, when you think your text is great and a time, when you think your text sucks. This is a part of every writing process.

I’m repeating myself but I don’t care because this is important: remember, these are just thoughts.

When you acknowledge them and accept that they are just thoughts, not the truth, you will be able to let go of them much faster. Accept them as a part of your process.

A brilliant depiction of the writing process by Katja Hölttä-Otto, Professor at Aalto University; https://twitter.com/HolttaOtto

And practice positive self-talk. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – if you believe all the negative things you say about yourself, you are only making it harder for yourself to succeed and thrive.

I hope you found some comfort in this post and found some new ways of dealing with the emotional roller coaster of academic writing and publishing.

Be kind to yourself. <3


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