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How to Move Past Fear in Academic Writing

by | Jan 10, 2019 | academic writing, mindset

Academic writing is an act of creation. It is bringing new ideas into the world while dexterously connecting to ideas that came before yours. It is representing years of deep work succinctly and compellingly on a page. It is inspiring further creation and knowledge making in others.

Because academic writing is creative, it is also scary. It is exposing yourself on the page. It is opening up not only your ideas but also your way of expressing them to criticism and critique.

This is the root of writing fear for many. Maybe you have a voice inside your head that says:

“I have nothing interesting to say.”

“I’m afraid of getting a desk reject.”

“I cringe to think of what the reviewers will say.”

“This isn’t new.”

All of those voices come from a place of fear.

And I just want to tell you: all acts of creation feel scary.

How can you move through (or with, or in spite of) that fear?

Here are three mindset shifts that will help.

#1: Realize that everyone is afraid

Though I think that many of us indeed felt fear from time to time in graduate school, I doubt anyone ever talked about it as such. Academia is deeply masculine in this way: we are not supposed to show fear or vulnerability.

But the sooner we realize that everyone feels afraid and vulnerable when they put their work out into the world, the easier it is to face our fears and do it anyway. Not that it is easy–just easier.

#2: Use fear as fuel for creation

The way that knowledge-making works is that someone throws out an idea and other people take it up, refine it, reject it, revise it. This process brings us closer to understanding complex phenomena. If you think of your ideas as first drafts–not the last word–putting them out into the world to see what happens can serve as fuel for creation of more ideas.

It’s scary to think about our ideas being critiqued, but this very critique leads us to better ideas. The fear is the fuel in the idea engine. Instead of trying to avoid it, seek it out. Let those scary ideas, the ones that make you feel nervous and vulnerable to put out in the world, fuel your academic creation.

#3: Create in community

To ease the fear surrounding creation, surround yourself with others who are fearfully creating, too. Find a writing community, or create one on your campus. Join us in The Academic Women’s Writing Collective where we support each other to write and publish more despite stress, overwhelm, and fear.

You must move through the fear and write anyway. The world needs your unique perspective on your field.


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