April 21, 2010
Writing and Emotions
The simple answer is that you can’t. First, you have to get the problem off of your mind. The difficulty that this entails depends on how big of a problem you have. Some problems can be taken care of fairly easily, while others are much bigger and require major steps. Let’s start with the easy kind of problems.
Let’s say you can’t write because you got an annoying email from your student about late papers and you can’t get it off of your mind. (Of course, you shouldn’t have opened your email before writing, but, that’s beside the point.) The best thing to do in this situation is to respond to the email. Do something about the situation instead of letting it bother you. Tell the student that the penalty for late papers is explained in the syllabus and that they should read the syllabus before sending you any other inquiries. Then, close the browser window and get back to writing.
This technique – of responding to situations that bother you to get them off of your mind – also can work for more complex problems. If, for example, your chair just asked you to teach a class you really do not want to teach and you are all wound up about what to do about it, the best thing to do is to send a firm email explaining why this is not a good time for you to teach that particular class. Again, act, and get it out of your system.
Suppose your problem is that you have just received a rejection and feel depressed about your academic future. The best thing to do is to be pro-active. Take out a pen and make a plan for submitting the article to another journal. Set a firm date as a goal for beginning the revisions and for submission.
It is essential to acknowledge your emotions and to work with them. If you had an argument with your partner this morning, and can’t get it off of your mind, sometimes it is best to acknowledge that you are upset, and to engage in tasks that do not require much concentration. You can fix the bibliography on your latest manuscript or organize those articles that are piling up on your desk. Who knows, you might even calm yourself down while you are busy looking up citation formats in the Chicago Manual of Style.
Of course, there are some problems that are not going away any time soon. You may be involved in a custody battle with your spouse. Your mother may be dying of cancer. You may be on the brink of divorce. To figure out how to be productive in those very trying circumstances is much less simple.
The first question you have to ask yourself is: how long is this going to last? If your sister has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and will die within the next thirty days, by all means, drop everything and spend every minute you can with her. If, on the other hand, you have a mentally ill brother who requires long-term care, you have to decide how much of a role you are going to play in that, and set limits to your time and energy.
Setting limits on what you can do for your loved ones is difficult. But, often, it is for the best. If you depend on your job for your financial solvency, it would be detrimental in the long term for you to spend so much time caring for others that you end up losing your job. Once you have lost your job, you likely will be of much less use to your loved ones who rely on your emotional and financial support. So, be sure to keep the long-term in mind.
Finally, do not hesitate to seek out professional help if you are having trouble dealing with your problems on your own. If you find yourself unable to move forward with your life or your work because of constant emotional problems, your best bet is to seek out a qualified therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist who can help you to find the best solutions for you.