A Return to Writing

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Hi there! My name is Paige Erickson, and I’m a faculty member from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. Welcome to the Academic Success Center Blogcast. In this episode, I’m going to talk about a return to writing.

Stuck in traffic, a few lines of dialogue came to mind. I started dreaming up a scenario for a play, though I had not written a play in 15 years. Later I told friends about my playwriting idea, and they were excited and encouraging. I went to the city that was the namesake for the script, only to find a perfect stage venue available to produce the play. 

Now all I have to do is write it. I find this thrilling and absolutely terrifying.

Perhaps it has been ages since you have written a paper for a class, as it has been ages since I have finished a play.  Both academic and creative works can stand to the same recommendations; so in solidarity with students and to motivate myself along the way, I will offer a few tips for a return to writing.

1. Regret is a delay tactic.

For five years, I authored a blog where I shared three original stories a week. Boosted by that consistency, I selected some of the most popular posts and put them into a book. I gave readings, handed out copies to strangers at gas stations, and enjoyed emails from readers. Then, despite all that momentum, I stopped. 

While I kick myself for lapsing, author Seth Godin shares sound advice for avoiding regret over dulled skills and lost energy. “Merely do the work. The time you are spending narrating yourself doing the work, the time you’re spending catastrophizing the work, is not helping anything” (Ferriss, 2020).  An alternative to regret is to appreciate the times that you have met a goal. 

When have you worked hard at something and carved out a new habit, skill, or practice?  Focus on occasions when you met any type of objective, as it shows a capacity for discipline that you can use while sharpening your writing skills. Think: “I did it before, and I can do it in this.” Switch those moments from laments to motivational fuel.

2. Leverage your in-between experiences. 

What have you been doing in the meantime? What makes your path unique and valuable? In 13 years of teaching at Purdue Global, I know my students get a “why” that brings them to the classroom. Some action, belief, or interest creates the drive to uncover their potential. Pursuing a degree requires students to refresh skills in writing, dedicate themselves to studying, and manage their aims amid their busy lives. A former student told me that she quit school years ago to serve as a caregiver to her mother. Seeing medical professionals interacting with her mother inspired her return to PG to pursue nursing. I’ve met hundreds of students who seek to leverage the good and the bad experiences in their lives so they can become the people they were made to be. This reflection can be a part of our new approach.

In my years away from writing, I traveled abroad and forced myself out of my comfort zone.  For example, my attempts to learn languages taught me a lot about humility, storytelling, and communication.  The lessons I have learned should deepen the perspective I can offer in my creative work now. Perhaps the timing is perfect to use this experience as evidence and knowledge, as it is with students who bring new perspectives from their lives to our classrooms.

Consider how your life has deepened your outlook and offered a stronger “why” for pursuing your goals. Aim not to underestimate the value of your unique point of view and experiences. 

3. Craft a new and enjoyable system.

We probably have a sense of what does not motivate us. What works for a family member or friend may fall flat if we try it; so part of this process is unearthing and creating personalized habits for effective writing. 

“If you want to change your story, change your actions first. When we choose to act in a certain way, our mind can’t help but rework our narrative to make those actions become coherent. We become what we do” (Godin, 2020, Loc. 416). Try not to create a punitive system that leads to further procrastination or certain frustration, but a practice that holds meaning and effectiveness for you as an individual. 

What practices will actually help you reach your objectives?  Classify tactics that did or did not motivate you in the past. You may need to try completely different methods. Select three words that describe who you want to be and set alarms on your phone to remind yourself of those words. Schedule an uncompromising appointment to do your writing. Buy yourself a new notebook or pen. 

Earlier this year, I organized a virtual reading of the first draft of my play and invited nine people who I admire immensely. When I gave myself no chance to back out, I stepped up. Employing accountability will be essential for me in moving this project from a traffic daydream to a staged production.

A successful process may take some trial and error, but keep the objective of devising a realistic and committed system for your goal. I’ll be re-dedicating myself to writing right alongside you. Once we’ve let go of regrets, and seen that the time away can lead to a more profound value in our work, building a new routine can be a rewarding part of a valiant return. Welcome back!


References

Ferriss, T.  (Host). (26 October 2020). Seth Godin on The Game of Life, The Value of Hacks, and Overcoming Anxiety (Episode 476) [Audio Podcast Episode]. Tim Ferriss Podcast. https://tim.blog/2020/10/26/seth-godin-the-practice/

Godin, S. (2020). The Practice. Penguin Publishing. 

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