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Academic Coaching & Writing

XIII. An Academic, Writing: Writing in an Authentic Voice

Feb 15, 2013 by Lee Skallerup Bessette

Three weeks into my book writing program, and I found myself stuck. Life, in the form of sick kids, snow days, and a visit from my Mother-in-Law, conspired to challenge my commitment to my sacred writing time. But, to be honest, I have been looking for excuses not to write, to avoid staring at my computer screen, writing and deleting, writing and deleting, writing and deleting. 

I have not been looking too deeply to discover why I was stuck. I thought that I was dealing with the very common fear of not having enough external sources or theory to support or legitimize my own work. My Inner Critic raged at me, “You need to read more,” “you need to find more sources,” “at least find the ‘right’ sources.” I struggled to let my own voice come through, not believing that what I had to say would be credible enough.

I have also been freaking out about how relatively little I am writing; relative, of course, to how much I used to write during my binges. In a frozen moment, after I spent an hour struggling to write 200 words, I tried to reassure myself that 200 words was okay. Yet, I wasn't convinced. I looked at my manuscript due date of October 1. 2013, and counting the number of days times the number of words, I began to panic that I would never get this manuscript done on time.

I noted all of these thoughts and feelings in the accountability document I maintain as part of the ACW Virtual Writing Room. I wondered how I could more effectively "chunk" my tasks, to get them to feel more like the blog posts I write with ease. And, I prepared for my weekly meeting with Moira, my coach, to discuss and work through these issues.

Moira and I toyed around with some ideas, such as worrying about the "theory" later and lowering my expectations for the number of words I realistically can write in an hour. We set up my tasks for a week in my accountability document and looked ahead to the next few weeks, when I have a conference coming up. Moira asked me how I felt about the presentation, and I launched into a spirited description of what I was going to be talking about.

There was a pause when I finished. Moira observed, “You sound so passionate about this particular topic” (which is completely difference from the topic I am writing about for the book). “Why don't I hear that same passion when you talk about your book?”

After reflecting on her question, I responded, “I do want to write this book,” I explained. “It's just this stupid introduction that has me stuck.”
“I just wish,” I said, “that I didn't have to write this [expletive] theory section.”

Writing in an Authentic Voice

And then, it happened. I got unstuck. I realized that I was writing the book I thought I "should" write rather than the book I want to write. I love writing blogs because I can write what I want to write and how I want to write. I haven't felt that way about the book. Then, suddenly, I envisioned how to write the book I want to write. The author I am writing about (Haitian author, Dany Laferrière) is playful and subversive and writes in a way that doesn’t easily fit into the mold of academic writing. One of the reasons I have always wanted to write this book is because I have yet to read a piece of academic writing about his work that captures and celebrates these particular elements. I became unstuck when I realized that I did not have to recreate the same old academic tone and style in my own writing. In my coaching session with Moira I resolved to give myself permission to be authentic in my purpose and my voice while writing my book.

The next day, it was amazing. I didn't have any problems writing. I am so grateful for the help my coach, Moira, has given me in working through my issues, and keeping the words flowing. The coaching conversation and the reflective questions (oh, those probing coaching questions!) have really helped to improve my writing process. Now I look forward to becoming a more productive writer by writing in my own authentic voice. 

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