Working With Rejection- part two

Writer’s have to live with rejection as part and parcel of the profession. Learn how to survive and thrive as a writer despite the common obstacles you will encounter to reaching your goals.

This blog has been on hold for some months due to a period of extreme busyness. In the meantime, I’ve become a regular contributor to the Positive Psychology blog where I cover many of the psychological issues mentioned in this blog in more detail. It’s worth a good look for free practical resources on many topics related to problems with your productivity as a writer. I’ll be linking to them more in future posts.

Anyway, following the intense activity of the last few months, I’m glad to be back with renewed vigour just as spring arrives in the northern hemisphere.

Taken on a recent ‘awe walk

In my last article, I covered how to deal with the inevitable rejections writers face as part and parcel of pursuing the profession. However, the bulk of the coaching work I do is with academic writers who are either writing a graduate thesis or dissertation, or are pursuing the publication of their research in peer-reviewed journals, so that is the focus of this follow-up.

Language and Style

There’s a range of established strategies academic writers can use to get a paper published or pass a graduate research degree. Yet, when I edited for various international academic editing agencies over the years, they perpetuated a lot of myths about academic writing with their clients, which I questioned. Needless to say, this didn’t always make me popular, but I have concrete evidence for my views that are detailed in the video below.

Myths included: academic writing should be impersonal, scientists never write using “I” or “we”, and complex abstract academic terms are preferable to more concrete terms because they seem more ‘objective’. “Not true” I protested. Don’t believe me?

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The video resource below offered by research writing expert Dr. Helen Sword of the University of Auckland is worth watching because it busts a lot of myths about academic writing.

I really advise watching it to see how bad some published academic writing is, and the simple steps that can be taken to make communicating research findings more effective. Grab a coffee and take the time to watch this in full.

Tip- if you want the transcript of this video, switch on the subtitles by clicking the ‘cc’ button then click on the three dots under the video on the right-hand side and click again on ‘open transcript’ in the drop-down menu. The transcript will open on the right-hand side, and you can copy and paste this into a document for ongoing reference.

Problems With Structure

Sometimes, the difficulties my coaching clients face are not with language and style at all, but with structuring longer pieces of writing like dissertations and theses. All those notes, all those ideas, just seem to swirl around in a confused psychic soup that keeps them awake at night and impedes any kind of sense-making process. Don’t worry we’ve all been there, I say to them.

OK, they say, somewhat relieved, but how do I get out of it and start writing?

Recently, I suggested a graduate student client take a look at the formula that is often used to organise research writing known as IMRaD. In short: Introduction. Methods, Results, and Discussion. In case you’re wondering, the conclusion is normally deemed part of the discussion.

Adherence to this basic template has helped so many of my previous graduate students put their dissertation or thesis together, section by section, in a logical order. It’s also the preferred template of many academic journals across multiple subject areas, from the humanities to social sciences and life sciences.

It isn’t a one size fits all formula but can act as a useful set of guidelines about what is required to demonstrate your research skills and communicate research findings effectively.

When my academic writing coaching clients are blocked, attempting to navigate their way through a long piece of writing often leads to overwhelm, and a kind of shut down typical of the fight, flight or freeze response. Then, IMRaD can come to the rescue by providing a map for organising research writing content.

Meanwhile using the snack writing technique or the dictate function on your word processor can get you writing and help overcome writer’s block. Forget about perfection altogether, just write. Crafting comes later, editing after that, and proofreading after that.

More tips are coming on the crafting and editing stages of academic writing very soon, free of grammatical terms and full of common sense.

Yeah, I know, sense doesn’t seem that common these days. Nonetheless, we can try. Especially those of us that keep writing.

Stay inspired if you can, and if inspiration leaves, just hammer those keys. See you soon, Jo.

Values-Driven Writing Goals

When I conduct my first coaching session with writers, I introduce them to the ACT approach that I have integrated into the Focused Flow model. ACT is a collaborative coaching intervention that was developed by Professor Steven Hayes as he struggled to overcome his own personal challenges following his divorce. Previously a highly competent public speaker and lecturer, Steven found himself freezing up when he went to speak and experiencing panic attacks which quickly developed into a full-blown panic disorder. As a psychologist, he tried all the standard approaches to deal with his condition, but none seemed to resolve his problems entirely. You can read more about how he struggled to overcome his problems and how this led him to develop the ACT approach here.

The ACT approach is based on a six staged process that is represented by the hexaflex.

The Hexaflex

I came across this approach after training in the more traditional mindfulness-based approaches of MBSR and MBCT, both of which require a regular meditation practice. While studying at the Centre for Mindfulness Practice and Research at the University of Wales, I found out that many of my peers had difficulties maintaining a meditation practice due to a lack of time, heavy workloads, and family responsibilities, meaning they often found these approaches difficult to follow. I was drawn to ACT, because while the approach teaches mindfulness skills that develop a greater awareness of how the human mind works, it does not require a meditation practice. That’s right- no meditation is involved! In fact, ACT exercises teach us how to develop mindfulness on the move, during the ordinary activities of everyday life. This alone aroused my interest, so I took an experiential training programme that required trainees to apply ACT to their everyday experience. After we were presented with the hexaflex and the theory was introduced we began stage one of the process called ‘front loading your values’.

When looking at the hexaflex above, it might be difficult to imagine how this approach could be applied to the writing process to help overcome blockages and optimise productivity. At first, this wasn’t my intention at all. It was only after working with a coaching client who had been trying to finish her PhD thesis for twelve years that I discovered how useful ACT could be for overcoming obstacles encountered during the writing process. I simply took my client through the six staged process with a focus on the importance of writing in her life with fantastic results. She then went on to finish her thesis in nine months!

The first stage involved front loading her values. As is often the case, she was unclear about what her values actually were, especially the values that were driving her writing goals. Values and goals are different. Goals are milestones of achievement while values steer the direction we want our lives to take. So, if we’re unclear about our values, we’re not sure where we’re heading, and so we’re much less likely to get there. Often, when my clients complete the values clarification exercises, they discover that the values that had been steering their life so far had never been their own values, but had been adopted from another source, such as parents, teachers, their partner, or even the accepted conventions of society as a whole. Russ Harris illustrates the difference between a values-focused life versus a goals-focused life in this short video below.

For those people struggling to complete a long-term writing project, understanding which values are driving their writing goals is crucial. It’s also important to understand if writing is associated with a lack of fulfilment of other values and how both sides of the coin interfere with the writing process. I’ll give you an example to illustrate what I mean.

Let’s return to my previous who had struggled to complete her PhD thesis for almost twelve years. When she started clarifying her values, she realised that despite the importance of the values of creativity, learning and adventure that steered her PhD research, she also associated spending extended time on her writing with a lack of time with her partner doing things they enjoyed such as travelling together, sharing leisure activities and seeing friends.  She discovered that subconsciously she was associating writing with relationship problems, social isolation, and even the loss of her partner to a less boring academic type! So, when we were front loading her values, we also had to reframe her writing in terms of her valued relationships, and unravel the association between writing and neglecting her partner and social connections.

As we did so, she realised to her surprise that her inability to focus on writing was at the core of some her problems with her partner, as her frustration was affecting her mood, energy levels and enjoyment of shared activities. She felt hunted by a sense of guilt and failure, and this was being expressed in her relationships in all kinds of indirect ways. Her partner was becoming associated with her inability to focus and write, although all her partner ever did was try to encourage her! Quite soon, we were able to reframe her writing as support to having a healthier relationship, as she saw how her reluctance to set boundaries to dedicate time to writing up her thesis was undermining her ability to be fully present to her partner and enjoy their time together.

In this case, front loading her values set her on a path to unlocking the time she needed to dedicate to writing, while she used mindfulness skills to detach from the guilt inducing inner commentary that would often arise when she made time away from her relationship to sit down and write. She established some values driven writing goals in the short, medium, and long term that enabled her to achieve a greater sense of fulfilment in other areas of her life. Once she had clarified the values driving her writing process, she was clear about where she was heading and could map out how to get there. This is the territory I cover with my clients in their first two coaching sessions using the Focused Flow workbook as a guide.

In the next post, I’ll explain how the mindfulness exercise of cognitive defusion helps establish the focus needed to drop into the flow state when we face obstacles with productivity even when we have plenty of time to write. Overcoming our inner obstacles to the writing process can be our greatest challenge. The Focused Flow model is especially designed to identify and uproot inner blockages to establishing the flow state, a vital and creative state of mind that is key to optimising productivity.

I look forward to any comments on this post.