Abby Wills: Writing Consultant
The culture—especially that of the university—is all too often frantic.
You perpetually have too much to do. It’s embarrassing to not be busy. Procrastination both alleviates and creates urgency (and everybody does it, so it’s okay). If you are stressed and anxious, you are merely conforming to the culture.
But thriving at the university does not require conformity. Instead, refusing to conform to franticness often leads to better quality work and increased enjoyment in that work. So try going slow.
“But if I have three papers due tomorrow that I haven’t started yet, how can I get them done slowly?”
Good question. The voice of wisdom is not always the voice of the culture. It’s possible that it usually isn’t. So here is some countercultural counsel:
1. Say no.
Culture: Get involved! Take every opportunity! Get out of your comfort zone! Fill your CV! Your whole future rests on your ability to juggle as many opportunities as you can! You will fail if you miss an opportunity!
The never-ending extra-curriculars, organizations, and opportunities of the university can be overwhelming, and if you attended orientation, you may or may not have been told to participate in all of them. The pressure is heavy.
Wisdom: Think very carefully about which specific opportunities would be most meaningful to you and your hopes for your vocation. Slow down. Consider carefully. Think through your choices for at least as long as you thought about which starter Pokémon to take. Your schedule does not need to be completely full in order to be successful.
2. Ask for grace.
Culture: Never show any signs of failure! Never give up! Hide your weaknesses and pull through by your own strength!
Wisdom: If you ask, more people are willing to be gracious than you might expect. If you have no time to write a good paper in time for the due date—ask for an extension. Most professors would prefer a good paper late than a bad paper on time. Asking is not failing. Asking is showing that you care about the quality of your work (and your health).
3. Get alone.
I used to think that the library was a place that inherently nourished productivity. This depends on your personality, but after my first couple years of undergrad I finally realized that the conversations, passersby, and moving bookshelves (my undergraduate university was higher tech than UofL) were usually too distracting. I did my best writing in the woods (my undergrad was also not in the middle of a city), the empty chapel, and on the floor of empty, soundproof practice rooms in the music building.
Culture: Loners are losers.
Wisdom: Loners get stuff done.
Of course, it would be unhealthy to be always isolating yourself, but a balance between enjoying others’ company and working hard on your own is crucial to success, especially when you are an introverted writer.
4. Go off the grid.
You know what I mean. Put your phone in your sock drawer. Ignore its petulant cries for attention.
Culture: But if I turn off my phone, I will miss important things! What if someone needs to get a hold of me?
Wisdom: You miss important things every time you look at your phone. Get your life together.
5. Stake your time.
If you know your most productive time of day, claim it. For me, this is first thing in the morning, before other people have gotten up, when my mind is clear and I can be alone. I guard this time jealously, which means I usually give up sleeping in. Putting a stake in your productive time usually means giving up something—sleep, social events, Pokémon raids—but if your best work comes from this time, it is worth it.
Culture: Gotta catch ‘em all!
Wisdom: This saying originated in the golden era in which only one hundred fifty Pokémon roamed the region. It is anachronistic to apply it to today.
Remember that franticness is not necessarily productivity. Taking the time to do good work, to rejuvenate, to be alone, to sleep—slowing down in these ways may make your writing flow better than you think. It is possible that the reason you are stuck in your writing process is because you have not had a break from all of the voices—present or virtually present via internet—clamoring for your attention.
Slowness is countercultural, but that doesn’t mean it is worthless. Sometimes revolution is necessary before progress is possible. In a culture of stagnant urgency, slowing down is the resistance.