Writing to Listen

Michelle Buntain, Writing Consultant

You’ve been staring at a blank page for a while now, willing the words to come. You’ve read over the prompt twice, three times, four times. The coffee is helping you stay energized, but all the coffee in the world won’t get this paper written. Neither will procrastinating

You know this; and yet, despite all your concentration and force of will, the words will not come. Before long, that familiar feeling begins to set in: panic.
Many people associate writing with a certain level of anxiety. We usually write for an audience who is going to judge us in one way or another – the paper you’re writing for class; the job application you’re working on; the text to a potential love interest. Writing forces us to put our inner lives out on display, and that can be incredibly intimidating.

As students and as scholars, we use our internal resources on a daily basis. Writing requires us to generate not just thoughts, not just sentences, but full, comprehensive, cohesive ideas. On top of that, we don’t even get to choose what we write about; in the academic world, we are almost always writing according to someone else’s stipulations. Nearly every day, somebody expects something from you, and you must deliver.

But focusing too much on what others are thinking is the most counterproductive thing for someone in an academic setting to do.

If we are obsessing over what is expected of us, it becomes nearly impossible to stay in touch with our own insights. Trying to balance what we really think with what we are “supposed” to think is a losing man’s game.

So, here is my challenge to all the frustrated writers out there: ask yourself, when was the last time you sat down to write without worrying about who was going to read your work? If you can’t remember, do yourself a favor: take a breath, take a seat, and just start writing. Don’t think too much. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t edit; don’t erase. No one else has to see it. There doesn’t have to be a purpose – no assignment, no thesis, no one to impress. Just write until you can’t write any more.

Maybe you wrote about something important; maybe you didn’t. Maybe you just ended up making a to-do list — it doesn’t matter. The point is to acknowledge yourself, to listen to what you have to say. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in listening to others that we forget to listen to ourselves. But if we don’t listen to ourselves, why should anybody else?

Every now and then, allow yourself the courtesy that you show others: don’t think, don’t judge. Just listen.

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