Wednesday 21 July 2010

Coping with a Writing Academic’s Stress

I love my job. It’s like being paid for doing what used to be a hobby. But there are stresses and quite severe ones at times.
Sometimes you don’t know what the priority is – you actually have three jobs: admin, teaching and research. Research, for me, is further divided into academic writing and my own creative writing. All bring what seem to be impossible deadlines.
Rejection is a big part of the game – and sometimes it’s by a so-called peer reviewer who isn’t really a peer at all because they clearly know a lot less about the subject than you do. You are paid to have reached a point of expertise. You probably have a Ph D, so you have “added to the body of knowledge”. The pressure is on to add even more or become even more of an expert. Yet you’re judged by people who lack that expertise.
Ironically, though, other people do regard you as an expert and you can be overwhelmed by questions. It actually makes you write more. If you’ve written about x, y and z, they don’t need to ask you questions – they can read the book, paper or blog.
You work alone. It is all down to you. You have rights and you have responsibilities. They can weigh heavy.
There is no end to the work. You finish one project and another looms. I except this happens in many jobs. There is no sense of finishing because no matter how good a paper, novel, story, article is that you write, the pressure is on to produce the next and make it even better.
I do have an antidote. I sing with a choir. Research says that singing is good for your mental health. It has a physical effect, releasing endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in the brain. In addition there are other physical benefits – for example it can improve lung function. But being a part of a choir is actually also about working with other people. A really good choir sings as one voice, even if it is singing in four or more parts. I also find that I can be more in the moment, totally absorbed in the music. Sure, I’m totally absorbed in my writing when I’m creating characters and scenes, but as I do that I’m still aware of a pressure to create perfection. In the choir, we’re encouraged to make our singing as good as we can and then we look to see how we can do it even better. We help each other with that and we’re pushed forward by our director. It’s a real contrast to how I work in my other world where I have to push myself forward but am then judged by others. With the choir, rehearsal and performance alike contribute to this feeling of working with other people.
Yes, I love my job. What was a hobby now earns me my bread and butter. Yet I’ve managed to find another hobby. One that helps to keep me sane and ironically thereby also contributes to the day job.

No comments: