It’s publication week for Writing Well and Being Well for Your PhD and Beyond: How to Cultivate a Strong and Sustainable Writing Practice for Life. It’s available as a paperback and ebook on all the big book websites, and via the publisher. As with all my books, I’m delighted if you buy a copy but also delighted if you recommend it to your university library so you get to read it and so does everyone else.
I had the best time writing this book, and the pre-readers have given such warm and delightful feedback. My series editor described the book as ‘your best friend’; ‘it’s personable, relatable, oozing with strategies.. It simply is a gift’. The peer reviewers said things like: it’s ‘calming and supportive’, ‘a useful review and re-thinking of the writing process’ that ‘gives permission’ for you to write, containing a ‘sprinkling of humour’ but also ‘addictively practical’.
I recently re-read Cal Newport’s Deep Work in preparation for my new book on writing and wellbeing. And soon enough I started to notice that the people he uses as exemplars of doing deep work were … all pretty similar. By my reading, there are only two women in the book who are described as doing deep thinking. And yet, perhaps, ladies* would still like to do deep work.
So often academic reading is experienced as a chore, or an anxiety, or an extractive industry. You might skim, mine or categorise your reading. You might read to critique, to look for the gaps. Perhaps you are looking forward to the day when machine learning tools can do your reading for you. Perhaps you would like to keep up with the wider reading in your field, but don’t feel like you have time. All of these mean that we often have a fraught relationship with reading.
There is no need to hoard articles you don’t actually want to read, but feel like maybe you might one day. Or to cling onto things you read years ago, like a dragon on a glittering bed of pdfs. Having a bookshelf or a lot of pdfs in your cloud server is not scholarship, and it isn’t a personality. It’s just having a lot of paper. We don’t care if you own a lot of papers, we care about what your critical and expert opinion is of what you have read, and how you are using it to advance knowledge.
I don’t know that I think you should make your writing sacred. But I do think that you could and you might like to. In any case, this thought-experiment about ‘what would it mean to make your writing sacred’ may help you to think through what you do think about your writing, how you define its meaning and place in your life, and what habits and environments you put around it to help you get that thesis written.
We are still having discourse about who should be productive, who doesn’t need to be productive, how to be productive in the plague times, and it’s all very confusing. While there are some Objectively Bad Takes, there are also just a lot of conflicting views that are mostly confusing because they all assume we know what productivity is and what it looks like… and I’m really not sure we do.
This one is going to be a lot of messy thinking aloud about the place of writing and self-care. There will be Latin and Greek! There will be Lorde and Foucault! If you don’t like theory, run very fast in another direction. If you do like theory–this will be a bloggy exemplar of thinking with, not a tight conclusion, and I’d love to talk to you about it!