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Information and education about psychology, gender, and trauma.

Advice and reflections on writing, research, and life in academia. 

Posts written by Dr. Jem Tosh and Dr. Lucy Thompson. 

How I protect my writing time

by Dr. Jem Tosh



What has hot chocolate got to do with my writing? Everything.


I ate so much chocolate when writing my last book that I damn near dedicated it to Cadbury.


It's a key part of my writing ritual - how I begin to create a space and mindset that ensures comfort when I'm writing about difficult or triggering topics, and one that encourages a focus on writing as a joy rather than persevering through an exhausting and miserable task.


I ate so much chocolate when writing my last book that I damn near dedicated it to Cadbury.

Making a hot chocolate when I'm starting to write has become a sign of the beginning of my writing time. I consider my writing time sacred - it's a time for me to create, to reflect, to bring something into existence from nothing (or from a blank page). It honours my experience as a survivor of abuse, as queer, nonbinary, and neurodivergent. It's my voice and my perspective connecting with others in a co-construction of knowledge that draws on texts and discourses that are sometimes radically innovative and others centuries old - and creating something new and unique.


Isn't writing beautiful?


But then, for some, writing can become a chore. In the context of academia publications are so closely confined as needing to be written in a certain way, published in a certain space, and reduced to numbers - word counts, deadlines, citations, and impact factors. This is in addition to the pressure of employment, income insecurity, and ultimately survival in a capitalist context where a job is necessary to access basic needs. Publish don't perish is perhaps a little too on the nose for those who need publications and grant proposals to keep their income. Where's the joy of writing and creating in that context?

 

Here's how I protect my own writing time and keep it a space free from the pressures and demands of others:


Put a sign on the door

I got in trouble for this when I was a lecturer because it turns out that academia isn't great with boundaries. I'd do it again though - much like any boundary, sometimes it needs repetition before it takes hold.


I put a sign on my office door to let people know that I am writing and not to be disturbed. The aim of this isn't really with the sign itself, so you may use something different, but it's about letting people know that you are not available at that time. That if something has come up and they need to speak to you about it, they know to talk to you about it later if it's not urgent (and so many things in academia are framed as urgent when they're really not). The university won't collapse if you take a couple of hours to write.


This is also about reducing distractions - so turning off notifications, closing browser tabs, and putting the phone on silent can all help, if those are things you can do. If you have responsibilities that mean you need to be available 24/7, if it's possible to share those responsibilities with someone else, that could be one way to go. E.g. asking folks to contact someone else for that brief period of time in case of something urgent, and you'll follow up once you've finished your writing.


The university won't collapse if you take a couple of hours to write.

Some folks in academia aren't allowed research or writing time, which is a problem in itself, and some folks might not like that you have the time (or are making time) to write. That's the unfortunate current state of academia, where people are overworked and the context can become competitive to the point of hostility.


It's also possible to create this space at home instead, asking those you share a home with to respect your writing time and space (that'll probably involve putting more boundaries in place too...).


Heavy metal breaks

If you're not a heavy metal fan, don't worry, you don't actually have to listen to it. When I'm writing about violence and abuse (which is most of the time) I find that after about an hour I need to listen to someone screaming and shouting about how shit everything is. After about 10 minutes or so of Slipknot's 'People = Shit' or KoRn's 'Right Now' I can usually enjoy my writing again for another hour (until my next heavy metal break).


So, I recommend paying attention to how your writing is making you feel and instead of pushing through, do something to acknowledge it, release it, comfort it, rest from it - whatever you need. Then, if you feel inspired to continue you can, or if you've had enough, stop.


Crip time and slow scholarship

Getting some writing done and dismantling ableism in academia? That's a win-win, right? As a brief summary for those new to the concepts, crip time is about not being confined to a rigid timetable or schedule - one that prioritises non-disabled people and profits over all people. In other words, it's about putting the well-being of people before deadlines. It's about preventing burnout and making workplaces more accessible. Not being able to keep up with the relentless demands of academia is a symptom of the profession's unreasonable and unsustainable expectations - you're not the problem. So if you need to let people down, let them down. As I've said elsewhere, don't break yourself, break the deadline.


Getting some writing done and dismantling ableism in academia? That's a win-win, right?

Slow scholarship is one way to do this. Just slow everything down. Think it will take you a month to write a chapter? Triple that time - hell, times it by ten. Better yet, don't have a deadline at all. Take your time, don't rush it. Create something you're really proud of and that you had the time to work on until you're really happy with it - rather than rushing and submitting because you want to meet that deadline for a conference or special issue. There will always be other conferences and special issues.


Enjoy it

I also recommend not setting writing goals or targets for your writing time. Instead try thinking about what you would like to do - what you would enjoy writing. Adding more targets and measures has the potential to add even more pressure and reduce the joy of writing even further (unless you thrive under pressure, in which case, you do you, just watch out for burnout).


The less I enjoy writing, the more I avoid it, the longer it takes to complete a piece, and the less inspired I get.

This is another reason I take those heavy metal breaks, so that I'm not pushing myself to finish a piece when I'm not enjoying it. The less I enjoy writing, the more I avoid it, the longer it takes to complete a piece, and the less inspired I get. So, I centre my joy and the things I am passionate about - either because I love them (like heavy metal, sci fi, and horror) or because I'm so determined to stop them (like violence and abuse).


Find supportive spaces

It can be difficult to centre your enjoyment of writing and slowing down how you work when you're surrounded by others who are publishing as much as they can, as quick as they can. This can be even harder in a context where supervisors and heads of department encourage you to do the same. That's why it can be so important to protect a little bit of your time for yourself. If you have to do the kind of writing that you don't enjoy, it can help to save a little bit of time for the kind you do.


Surrounding yourself with people who share that outlook, of slowing things down and doing projects that really spark your fascination and curiosity, can help you to protect that time because you're not doing it alone.


I created psygentra's Writing Support Group for this reason. I wanted a space that I could keep for my writing, where I could write regularly so that I would be able to work on a project over time, but without pressure or rushing and with the support of others doing the same - people working on their own passions and at their own pace.


If you want to you join us, you can learn more here.

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also known as Dr. Jemma Tosh (deadname)

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