Mumblings on writing and work

January 13, 2012

Angie, at Still Life With Circles, has an excellent post up on writing and procrastination, both subjects near and dear to my heart, and especially relevant to me today.

You see, yesterday I finished a full draft of an article about some library survey data and what one of the trends means for academic libraries. It probably sounds boring as hell, something common to most academic writing unless your own work/research is related to said writing. It isn’t the article I dream of writing, the one that will have a major impact on library services and make me an instantly recognizable figure at fancy national conferences. But it’s a fully drafted article. I wrote it with a colleague and after we hear back from some other colleagues who’ve volunteered to give us some feedback, we’ll submit it to a journal.

The journal will publish it, because it’s already good. By the time we submit, it will be better.

I can write, you see.

It’s something I do often at work. I advise on system-wide emails, take others’ ideas and my own and create policy statements or guidelines, put together web pages so library users will (hopefully) have some online resources that are helpful and clear and readable. I translate tech speak to human speak. I like doing this, these forays into language, into this deeply important aspect of what it means to be human. I like that this is part of my work. I can conduct rigorous research and incorporate various theories, the brain children of others, into my own work and words. This little article, it is good. It may even be moderately important. I’m pleased with it.

And yet…

The article I really want to write, the one incorporating years of research, is the one I’ve been putting off and putting off. I stared at my notes. I took more notes. I did something else. I beat myself up about not writing it on a daily basis until my interesting article idea became a nightmare, a stone around my neck, and a clear indication of how badly I’ve been broken.

Because after my administrators sat me down in their offices and told me that they like me, like my work, but that I needed to write and publish or they wouldn’t be able to hold onto me, procrastinating that one thing I needed to do, especially since that one thing was something I’m generally interested in and good at – well, that’s something I can only explain by being broken. Every time I tried to piece together some writing that would, well, save my job and grant me some security, I came face to face with how much harder writing is for me after Teddy’s death. I saw the breaks and cracks and holes where my talents and ambition and fortitude used to be.

Writing this other article, this article that wasn’t as important to me as my own pet research project, this article that I wrote with someone else and therefore had small deadlines for which I needed to be accountable, it helped me fix part of myself.

I didn’t know I could do that. Last month, I was thinking along these lines – Hello, my name is Erica and my son died and now I am broken. Also, my family is broken. Also, the world. And now I suck at things I used to be good at.

Today, I am thinking like this – Hello, my name is Erica and my son died and now I am broken. Also my family is broken. Also the world. And now I need to work extra hard to do some of the things that used to come easy to me, and I hate that and may never stop resenting it, but I’m getting better at it, at fixing parts of myself, at bringing bits of myself back or making new bits of myself to fill in holes that need filling.

I’m writing that pet article. Right now, today. I grind the words out and they hurt, but they’re good words. I’ll have it drafted within 10 days, even with beginning-of-the-semester business.

It only took me three and a half years to get here.

By the time I’m 60, perhaps I’ll be fully functional. Maybe I’ll stop thinking of myself as broken. For now, though, it’s a huge relief to realize that I’m not broken beyond all usefulness or repair.

I want to know – where are your broken places, the things you used to be good at that were/are hard or impossible to do? Have you been able to fix any of these places or find ways around the brokenness? Do you think being broken will ever, well, suck less? Or do we just learn better to deal with it?



  1. Making Kathleen’s Halloween costume this year was a break through for me. There were so many creative things I wanted (still want) to make and do for and with my kids but I ran into these barriers. There was nothing stopping me except a feeling that “I just can’t do this” as much as I wanted to do it. It was like a lack of energy despite desire. This was almost four years after Henry died.
    I feel like I am less organized than I used to be and that things still take me longer for work. I honestly don’t know if it is still grief or if it is trying to do things with living children.

    I think slowly over time we get stronger and we learn to compensate better for what is broken. But I think sometimes we breakthrough a barrier. It may not be easy on the other side, but we stop feeling stuck.

    Congratulations on the article—and good luck on the one important to you!

  2. I am currently struggling with an academic article, and broken is exactly the word for it. I wish I had advice, but I am so not even close to the other side. I feel foggy, still, where I used to feel sharp and clear. I keep thinking eventually it will get easier, but what do I know?

  3. I just love this post, it articulates something that I find very difficult to nail down. You’ve really got it, I’m broken. That is the trouble.

    Well done on finishing the draft of your article on survey data and I hope that the ongoing pet article is soon approaching the same state. I can imagine that working on something dear to your heart makes it even harder in some ways.

    I used to have more resilience and now I get overwhelmed much, much more quickly. I find that my thinking is a little fuzzy these days, which is not compatible with working with numbers and big datasets. As Brooke says, I feel foggy instead of sharp. I do feel that my brokenness has impacted on my ability to do my job, which also made me feel even more useless than I already did!

    I hope that I’m getting a little better but it seems to be a slower process than I would like. And yes, I no longer feel beyond repair which is better than I was.

  4. My husband’s the librarian in the family but I felt this post right down to the center of my weakened little brain. I have no advice for you but, know that you are not alone in feeling diminished and broken.

  5. I know this post is a bit older but I came across it and I really can relate to this. I was abroad during the unexpected terminal illness and death of a close family member and unable to be with her. At the time I was doing field work for my Master’s. In ways I couldn’t explain, looking at or even thinking about my data and project pushed me into a panic — unconsciously, my research anxiety and the trauma of her death became connected. Initially I just pushed my work away and did other things, which I had the liberty to do for the summer as a grad student. It took me more than three months to even understand that was what was going on, though, and it’s taken me a year to really be able to approach my work head-on. Anyway, thank for sharing your journey.

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