Recognize this little fella?
Research day? Is that what you call it?
You’re just staying home in your pyjamas taking a day off.
You’ve got more important things to do like plan classes, and prepare for that committee meeting, meet with students …
I certainly do. In fact, back when I was still an academic and decided to reduce my work commitment (and salary) to 80%, I had a colleague say to me that he didn’t understand why I didn’t just take the time I needed and call it a research day instead of taking the pay cut.
No wonder it’s hard to keep your commitment to writing regularly. It seems that although we talk about the importance of making time for research, even our colleagues are suspicious of whether we are really working during those times.
Writing is part of your job
It is not your hobby. You need to write articles and books.
You might write lectures. You might write policy documents as part of your committee work. You might write blog posts, newspaper articles, plain language summaries of your research for non-academic users, or any number of other things.
Not only that, you write to think. Writing is the primary way that you make sense of all those ideas in your head.
Dealing with that gremlin
Your gremlin wants the best for you. It’s worried that your colleagues will think you aren’t pulling your weight. That your students will get a raw deal. That you are going to screw up and make a fool of yourself.
Your gremlin doesn’t really understand how something that you do by yourself and that you only have to report on about once a year can be more important than preparing for that class tomorrow or helping that student that’s standing right there.
Your gremlin is not alone in this. Lots of people don’t understand how important writing is to your job (and your identity, but maybe we’ll leave that aside for now).
Here’s the thing. Your gremlin doesn’t really need to understand why this is so important. It needs to accept that it’s important even if it seems crazy. And it needs to go do something else so you can write in peace.
Gremlins usually agree to experiments.
Then ask your gremlin nicely if it will let you try this for one term. You can even decide on some criteria for deciding whether it’s working. And you can agree to evaluate your experiment at the end of term. You might even do a mid-term review.
Make the criteria things that the gremlin is worried about: Were you unprepared for classes? Did you drop the ball on any committees? Did you look like a fool who couldn’t do your job?
Be clear about the evidence for these things. You might feel like you are unprepared because you are doing less.
Is there any evidence that you were actually unprepared? The fact that you could have done better is not evidence that your performance was not good enough (or even excellent).
If you’d benefit from some support, the Academic Writing Studio has a class called Establishing a Writing Practice that will help you set up your experiment. A Foundation membership gives you access to classes and to online community support. Full membership also includes A Meeting With Your Writing, a weekly synchronous writing session.
This post was originally published on August 27, 2012. It has been edited, most recently on March 15, 2016.