Monday, January 24, 2011

Hello. My name is Bryan and…

For my first post here on EIU writes, I thought it would be good to address the “writing process.” It’s early in the spring semester, and all of us have much writing to do before it concludes. Each of us likely has their own way of negotiating the myriad writing tasks we are faced with. Since we are focusing on Writing Across the Curriculum, it occurs to me that writing, in a very general sense, is a behavior. And behaviors, to the extent that they are goal-directed, can be beneficial or harmful, relative to desired outcomes. Though it may seem a downer to open with a meditation upon harmful behaviors, I find it helpful to own up to an element of my writing process that is causing me problems.

I am a procrastinator. Like anyone in denial, I have developed a full range of euphemisms to describe this behavioral trait. “I’m still doing the research.” “This is the pre-writing phase of my process.” “It’s all up here” [pointing to my head]. These interpretations are easy enough to support in the early part of the semester. It’s the inevitable aftermath that calls for a conceptual revision.

This is a difficult, embarrassing, and perhaps somewhat ironic declaration from someone whose job description at EIU includes the designation “Writing Consultant.” But I offer my confession as a means to invite discussion from other members of the EIU writing community. Are there any other procrastinators out there? Recovered procrastinators with certain durations of non-procrastinating under their belts? Any suggestions from anyone in any department for how to combat this writing behavior?


  1. For larger writing projects, I've had success creating a writing schedule. During the summer, it's much easier because I can write every weekday if I want to do so. During the school year, however, when I'm working on a project, I make sure I set aside time on non-teaching days to write and revise, write and revise, write and revise.

    To make a small leap here, a writing schedule can function much like a daily meditation practice. You set up the time to write free from distractions, and you have to have the discipline to get the job done.

    I remember reading an interview with the poet William Stafford years ago. When he was asked about challenges of his writing practice (he made himself write every morning) and writer's block, he replied that some days when the writing isn't "flowing" he simply had to "lower his standards."

    Once a writer has a mental block of some sort, I'm a strong believer in just writing and cleaning up afterward. The writing process is messy, and if one embraces the messiness of pre-writing, rough drafting, and revising, revising, and revising some more, that person can get beyond the "this sentence or paragraph or idea has to be perfect the first time I write it" mindset that lots of folks get hung up on.

    To me at least, too often people fall into the "muse" foolishness. As I told one person last year, a lot of good writing comes from self-discipline. You have to sit your butt down in a chair and get to work. Rick Bragg has an interesting take on that whole deal in "Rick Bragg Laments His Absent Muse":

    As I know you've discovered since you work as a Writing Consultant, just talking about your ideas or showing rough ideas to someone else for a different perspective can be very helpful... [shameless plug for the EIU Writing Center].

  2. A post from the U of Wisconsin Writing Center's blog offers some interesting connections that might relate to what you're talking about, Bryan.