A few weekends ago I was privileged to witness 30 master’s and doctoral students, currently pursuing degrees in various CEHD programs, publicly commit to achieving short-term writing goals at the CEHD Writer’s Retreat. This was the second time the CEHD Office of Student and Academic Affairs (SAA) hosted a Writer’s Retreat for our graduate students. During this 8-hour retreat, attendees participated in two interactive mini workshops around goal setting and navigating databases and did some extensive writing. The retreat was ideal for students needing accountability, dedicated space, minimized distraction, and assistance from writing consultants to receive feedback on their writing and to help get unstuck.
Writing comes easy for some people, while others struggle to generate written products of high quality. As the saying goes, “the struggle is real.” Although waking up at 6:00am to ensure an arrival on campus by 7:00am and staffing an event until 5:00pm isn’t my ideal way to spend a Saturday, it’s warming, inspiring, and affirming to be in the company of students publicly declaring with their physical and mental presence and words, “I need help.”
Writing is an intense and vulnerable process that can conjure up feelings from relief to self-doubt, leading one to question: “When will I have time to write this?” “Do I have to share this with someone?” “Will the reader like my ideas?” “Is that sentence perfect enough?”
While staffing the Writer’s Retreat check-in, a young lady walked up to the table to find her nametag amongst the sea of nametags and noticed other recognizable names. She expressed with joy, “I’m so happy to see that there are other PhD students who signed up to be here! I thought I was going to be the only one.” In that moment, she reminded me of the courage it took for her and others to fill out the registration form to attend the retreat, to actually show up, and to also sign up to meet with a writing consultant for additional help.
I want you to know that we see you and understand the vulnerability and courage it takes to ask for help, particularly with your writing, from getting started to finding accountability partners and receiving feedback on your product. These recurring thoughts, feelings, and actions are all part of the process of learning, growing, and developing into scholars and professionals.
Here are three tips to reducing writing anxiety:
- Give yourself permission to be a student. Sometimes we are so focused on presenting ourselves as a scholar who has it all together. Thus, we get stuck on writing the perfect sentence(s), share only what we self-determine as a written “masterpiece” for initial review, and express difficulty in being receptive to any critical feedback. Give yourself permission to spend time in the “lab” being a student: an inquisitive learner and becoming scholar.
- Accept feedback as a sign of respect. Learning that the masterpiece you’ve written has flaws can crush your spirit. Page after page you see heavy track changes or red ink spewed all over your document. In that moment, you can ignore the feedback, defend your product, or choose to be receptive to the reviewer’s suggestions for improvements. It’s is so easy to write off a reviewer as “out to get you” because they ripped your paper to shreds. However, I would argue that the more feedback you receive the better. It’s not very often that you’ll meet someone who is willing to invest their time, especially if it’s at no charge, in giving you extensive feedback. Critical feedback is necessary to strengthening your scholarship. Find a few good colleagues, mentors, or advisors who are willing to invest in you. Give them your writing projects and let them have at it! You’ll greatly benefit in the end.
- Keep showing up. We will continue to provide spaces and opportunities, such as the Writer’s Retreat, to aid in your writing process and, more broadly, your scholarly development. We ask that you keep showing up, not just to our retreats but to your own “retreats”. When you’re feeling knocked down, defeated, rejected, incompetent, and/or unmotivated, tap into your inner championand get back up and go back at it one more time. Don’t stop showing up for yourself and the folks who are invested in you!
That’s all for now.
Peace and blessings.
Dr. Ivory Berry, also known as “Dr. Get-Your-Life-Together,” is the Assistant Dean for Student Success for the College of Education and Human Development. He shares his no-nonsense wisdom every day in the Office of Student and Academic Affairs, and occasionally, here on the Student Success Blog.