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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Building a Happy Relationship (to Your Writing)

Many if not most academic writers I know do not enjoy a happy relationship to their own writing.* They don't enjoy the process of writing or even the product--their own prose style. Writing, even for those with active, vigorous research programs, is a burden or a torment, offering few if any pleasures. Curiously, the romantic vision of a scholar involves suffering in order to produce, but the end result is not a brilliantly inspired work of art, but rather a routine publication. Such scholars might speak of their own articles as mere entries on their curricula vitae, without a clear sense of pride in what they've done. Their unhappy relationship to the process of writing taints the publications themselves.

I've had an unhappy relation to my own writing at times, so I am speaking from experience. But I also know that this way of thinking is not necessary. The happy writer draws strength from her scholarly base and takes pleasure in the act of putting sentences together. An article from such a scholar is a genuine contribution to the field and a further source of happiness and pride. Do you have to suffer to create? Maybe, but I think we all have suffered enough anyway: there is no need to introduce extra suffering into the process.


*Thomas, quoting Tolstoy, says that all happy writers are alike.


Anonymous said...

The same principle holds true for graduate students who think they're supposed to miserable, starving, shells of themselves for 5-8 years while they slave away in the library like some romanticized version of the scholar.

Grad school is certainly overwhelming, but it can also be amazing. I mean, isn't grad school the place where you meet many of the friends and colleagues you'll have for the rest of your life. Despite some of my struggles, I have absolutely loved my time in grad school.

Jonathan said...

Yes. You have to separate some of the misery inherent in the situation from misery as an ideal to be pursued.

Anonymous said...

Haha, but I have now received a comment from someone who doesn't have trouble writing, and I am proud of it, so I am showing it off and asking: why is it in US academia that writing is said to be so hard? Here's the comment: http://sptc.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/research-first-part-ii/#comment-1485