Blog vs. Perfectionism

I’m a PhD student writing a dissertation. I more or less write for a living. I like (love?) writing, but I already do far too much of it–enough that I’m sometimes convinced that I hate it.

So… why a blog, then? Why write even more?

In short: I think I need it.

I discovered last year while interning part-time as a grant writer that non-academic writing is good for me, and good for my dissertation. The internship gave me the opportunity to practice writing regularly, and to practice writing in a very different way than I was used to. I was writing to a new (to me) kind of audience about a subject in which I had no expertise.

Maybe most importantly, people–coworkers, foundation boards, people with the power to decide where a whole lot of money went–were reading my work regularly. Mere weeks or even days after starting a proposal, I would send it off for its intended audience to read, judge, and accept or decline. After a brief period of editing and collaborating, my work was done. I could move on.

It turned out this was exactly what my writing needed–in part because it forced me to write so much so often, but also because it left no room for my perfectionist tendencies. I couldn’t spend hours looking for the perfect citation to fill in the gap in my knowledge. I couldn’t spend weeks wondering if I should address the indigenous clergy in a more in-depth way. I couldn’t rewrite the same topic sentence 20 times, only to delete the whole paragraph a few weeks later. I couldn’t spend months wondering what my argument was, worrying about what others might think about it, or fretting that maybe I wasn’t putting enough work into it.

In other words, there just wasn’t time for all the problems that had been plaguing my dissertation process. There wasn’t time to be perfect and, as it turned out, there wasn’t even a need. Proposals I wrote in a just few days generally received some form of approval from my team. Sometimes, these proposals won tens of thousands of dollars. Why be perfect when good enough gets you what you need?

The solid deadlines played a role, but what helped me the most was the frequent proof that others didn’t hate what I wrote. When writings I hadn’t agonized over for months on end reached the eyes of others, the world didn’t explode. Mostly, good things happened: I got helpful feedback from team members and, sometimes, good news from funders. My writing was just ok, and that was entirely fine.

Now my internship is over, and I’m back to full-time academia. So, I’m turning to blogging as my non-dissertation writing outlet. The stakes are a lot lower than for grant proposals, and there won’t be any deadlines. But I’m hoping that blogging will serve as a frequent reminder that I actually like writing, and that sharing my work isn’t so bad. Maybe it will prove to me that that first draft of a dissertation chapter doesn’t need to be amazing–it just needs to be done.

I’m not sure yet what exactly I’ll write about. I expect there will be some dissertation tidbits, some stuff about the writing process, some rants about terrible articles found online, and some tangents about knitting. Whatever I feel like, probably.

I hope I can start some productive conversations with whatever I write, but if not, that’s ok. All I really need is a place to practice.

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3 thoughts on “Blog vs. Perfectionism

  1. I love this!!! It was wonderful to read!

    Can I suggest other topics/segments for blog writing! 1) The Continued Adventures of Ash The Wonder Cat! 2) Things to do with cheese! 3) Living with roommates vs Living with boys 4) Why did we just have a meeting about that?!?! 5) Delicious food of Austin! 6) Nachos

    Like

  2. I felt so great after reading this! I think I blog for the very same reason! my sister calls me crazy, ‘caz not like I don’t have enough writing and reading to do(I’m on my last year of my BA in English and also another degree, so I’m juggling two) I’m not alone! My blog took a dip for a few months caz I felt it might be a waste of time, but no I’m back and I feel so good to let ideas that stroll into my mind out! It also looks like I’ll be writing for the rest of my life, but I have and will love every minute!
    Also, I love you blog šŸ™‚ I don’t feel so lonely any more ā¤

    Like

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