Tips from the NCFDD Monday Motivator: November 2022 edition

by Chava Nerenberg, Graduate Programming Assistant
Friday, November 04, 2022 10:18 AM


Are you feeling like you just can't get anything done with everything that has been going on recently? Read on for an article from the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD), an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community of over 71,000 graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members. 

To take advantage of this amazing resource (free for UCSB students!), you must register with your UCSB account (see how to register here). Once you register, you are automatically subscribed to the Monday Motivator -- your weekly dose of positive energy and actionable steps to increase your productivity and motivation. This week's Monday motivator focuses on strategies for writing during the summer.

Monday, October 17, 2022
Are You Ready To Get Unstuck?

by Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD
Founder, NCFDD

Anthony Ocampo, PhD
Academic Director, NCFDD

We’re often asked: How do you get unstuck when the writing just isn’t moving? How do I get past the curse of the blank screen? Having worked with thousands of faculty, we know that getting unstuck involves some combination of developing a daily writing habitaligning time with prioritiesconscious strategic planning, and getting connected to a community of support and accountability. That sounds pretty simple, but the hard truth is that changing behavior serves as the mechanism to force whatever is really holding a person back to bubble up to the surface. In other words, while at least 30 minutes of writing every day will make you more productive than not writing at all, what comes up to try and stop you from writing is even more important. Please know that we know that making such changes may seem daunting, but we promise that even small shifts in everyday behaviors have—over time—the ability to be transformative.

For the vast majority of people we work with, their inability to write for at least 30 minutes each day boils down to perfectionismfear of humiliation, criticism, harsh judgment, or failure, and/or a very long tape of negative messages that plays in a continuous loop whenever they sit down to write. That feeling of being stuck is pervasive in the Academy and can keep people from starting (or finishing) their writing projects because nothing is ever good enough. At times, some writers can't even get a word down on paper because their perfectionism, fears, and negative tape has already deemed their thoughts worthless before they even hit the page.

While internal forces can hinder academic writers, it’s also the case that the structure of the Academy often exacerbates perfectionism, inspires fears, and triggers the negative tape to start playing. By that we mean whenever we publish or present our work, it's guaranteed to be vigorously critiqued, evaluated, and critically engaged. In a healthy environment, this can be invigorating. But too often, the experience falls short. Colleagues exaggerate any minor error, pounce on the slightest flaw in logic, and make both personal and substantive attacks for the purpose of their own ego-aggrandizement. And if a scholar’s work challenges dominant paradigms, methodologies, and/or existing structures of power and privilege, perfectionism and fear can stem from feeling that their work has to be beyond reproach in order to endure the extra scrutiny such work routinely faces.

While it’s our job to help academic writers get unstuck, it does not mean that we are immune to getting stuck ourselves. In fact, we can become so frozen by our perfectionism that we stop writing entirely. To kick-start ourselves, we often invite people to join a writing challenge. Getting a whole bunch of new people committed to daily writing energizes us, and at the end of our writing time each day, having the chance to not only report what we have written but also describe our challenges puts things into perspective.

During one writing challenge, we realized that we often experience a stream of negative thoughts while writing. That inner dialogue was often vicious, self-critical, angry, judgmental, and downright nasty. For us, it was a powerful experience to become consciously aware of our inner-critic's non-stop negativity. Recording the content of it each day and reflecting on the patterns in that content made us realize why writing is so painful on some days. Who would want to face that every morning?

Before we joined that particular writing challenge, we were fully aware that we lived in a world where our presence and ideas were routinely devalued, dismissed, and openly disrespected. Yet each day during our writing challenge we became increasingly aware of how deeply and thoroughly we had internalized the negative messages around us. So much so, that we had been unconsciously reproducing them in our own minds and allowing them to successfully shut down our productivity. Becoming aware of the negative tape allowed us to question the messages: 

  • Are they true or are they false?
  • Where did they come from?
  • What positive messages could replace them?

The point of this story is to let you know that if you find yourself stuck, you’re not alone! As a short-term intervention, consider trying a quick behavioral experiment: Join an NCFDD monthly writing challenge! All you need to do is set aside at least 30 minutes each weekday (ideally first thing in the morning) and get clear about what exactly you need to do during that time. And if perfectionism, fear, or any negative tapes start playing, imagine yourself pressing the pause button and replacing your negative thinking with something else. When you can make it through the first two weeks of daily writing, you will begin to experience the benefits of this practice, and that positive energy will carry you forward. 

The Weekly Challenge

This week, we challenge you to do the following: 

  • Commit yourself to at least 30 minutes each day for your writing
  • Join our Monthly Writing Challenges and experiment with daily writing in a community of writers.
  • Block your writing time out of your calendar during your Weekly Meeting.
  • At the end of your writing time each day, record your progress, your challenges, AND what you are proud of accomplishing that day.
  • At the end of the week, take a few minutes to look at the daily log to see what patterns exist in your negative self-talk.
  • Patiently and lovingly ask yourself: What's up with that?
  • Begin to imagine an alternative, loving, and accepting dialogue to replace your negative self-talk. Check out the Powerful Positive Writing Affirmations created by our Bootcamp participants to get started.

We hope that this week brings you the determination to write every day, the awareness to recognize your internal challenges and negative self-talk, and the strength to start a new and supportive inner dialogue.