During my time in graduate school at Arizona State University, I learned something very important about myself that has been critical in my success as an academic on the tenure-track and beyond. I am a social writer. No mistaking it. Having to write my comprehensive exam papers on my own nearly ended my academic career before it even began. And, I readily admit that if it weren’t for my grad school sisters, writing with Susanna every Sunday at Wildflower Bakery and gathering the sisterhood together in my townhouse on the night before our dissertations were due for format review, I don’t know that I would have ever finished preparing that daunting document in time to graduate.
I know this about myself. I do better at staying focused on my writing tasks when surrounded by the shared energy from others who are also writing. I can block out the noise of coffee shops and a great many other distractions when in the company of other writers. However, on my own, I am easily distracted and end up accomplishing very little! And, thankfully, I’m not alone in this proclivity towards the social, so I can usually find others willing to write with me.
Over the years, I’ve learned so many different strategies to make writing more social for myself – (thank you to the female academics who launched the Living the Writerly Life in Academia study group at the Literacy Research Association annual conference). My CV makes it obvious that I gravitate toward designing collaborative research and writing projects. I’ve participated in writing groups. I love organizing and participating in coffeeshop writing time with friends, colleagues, students, and even strangers! I help run Writing Camps for faculty and students at Warner and abroad. During my Junior Leave in the spring of 2015, I created a support system that included at least four sessions a week with other writers out in various local coffee shops. I clearly thrive as a social writer.
Enter COVID-19 and #socialdistancing: What’s a social writer to do?
As I returned from Indonesia, I had grand plans for how I would be spending my days analyzing data, writing blog posts to reflect on my Fulbright experience, reading and thinking through articles about global literacy research to inform a collaborative writing project that Puji and I committed to, and generally steeping myself in social writing to continue my sense-making and academic work. But, as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted all of our lives, it’s become increasingly more challenging to focus on writing and productivity, especially without the support of other writers.
I’ve done what I know to do – I have regularly scheduled check-ins with my accountability buddy and collaborators. I participated in a virtual writing group meeting earlier this month. I reached out to my Indonesian colleagues to organize and then participate in a virtual writing session using WhatsApp to connect us. I even thought about creating some sort of structure for formal virtual writing group time to make available to my Warner colleagues/students and my Indonesian friends. But, alas, I’m slowing my roll, managing my expectations for myself and others, and heeding the guidance from this sage academic who argues that we should ignore all of the coronavirus productivity pressure.
“Now more than ever, we must abandon the performative and embrace the authentic. Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience. Focus on real internal change. These human transformations will be honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrated, beautiful, and divine. And they will be slower than keener academics are used to. Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world. Because the world is our work. And so, may this tragedy tear down all our faulty assumptions and give us the courage of bold new ideas.”Aisha S. Ahmad, March 27, 2020
So, as I embrace the authentic and slow down, I’m going to allow myself to be distracted a bit while still finding small ways to engage in the writing, reading, and thinking that I know matters to me and the academic work I want to be doing. I’m going to try tapping into social media supports for academic writers (e.g., Wendy Belcher’s helpful Facebook Group) and see if they can help keep me writing during a time of social distancing. And, having written this post, I’m calling today a WIN!
Stay safe all!