In Part 1 of How to Overcome Common Writing Roadblocks, we discussed what writing roadblocks are, specifically, and went in-depth on the biggest issue of them all: writer’s block. This post will talk about what writing blocks are, how to spot them, and how to move past them to really work on your work.
We will now continue to explain how to overcome the common writing roadblocks, and we will also cover two other common writing issues: imposter syndrome and procrastination. We will tell you what they are, and how they manifest as a stumbling block for progress. We will also discuss what you should do about them.
What is the meaning of imposter syndrome?
After writing eleven books and winning several important awards, Maya Angelou still had this persistent doubt that she had not earned any of these accomplishments.
Then Albert Einstein experienced something similar. He described himself as a “selfish swindler” whose work had not received nearly as much attention as it had received previously.
It is rare for people to achieve things that are as impressive as Angelou’s or Einstein’s, but the fact that they become extremely angry is extremely common. TED-Ed
This is imposter syndrome━the feeling like you are “secretly” less capable than your peers and mentors think, and that somehow you’ve “lucked” into all of your achievements thus far. You will worry that one day people will find out that you are a fraud or that you are really not smart or good enough for the job or profession that you are in.
Also known as imposter phenomenon , imposter experience, or, collectively, imposterism, imposter syndrome disproportionately affects underrepresented groups, though all age groups, (from teens to professionals near retirement), gender identities, and other grouping indicators have shown documented cases of this issue [1, 2].
Here’s a short list of some of the ways imposter syndrome manifests itself.
- Is it possible to always be considered unqualified, no matter what level of education you have or what skill you have?
- It is dangerous to be afraid that the quality of your work and your abilities are not up to par.
- There is also a fear of failure that is rooted in not being “enough” in any capacity—not being smart enough, gritty enough, creative enough, etc.
- There is the nagging feeling that some day people will realize that you are not really “who you think you are” or that you are a different person from what you think.
- The feeling of intense self-doubt that despite all your best efforts, you might not have the kind of effect that you want.
After each of the above mentioned points, you should add the following caveats: despite a mountain of evidence and achievements to the contrary, despite having a history of receiving great feedback, despite having colleagues and mentors who believe in your abilities, etc.
The main problem with imposter syndrome is that you may not be able to process the positive message when you are feeling so negative about yourself.
Imposter syndrome, a roadblock written on a writing pad.
Despite it not being obvious, imposter syndrome can greatly hinder writing and researching, due to the constant bombardment of anxiety that it causes. With the result that you already feel unworthy and that you fear that people will find out that you are “less than” someone else, how can you really do your best work?
If you’re worried that your research proposal might actually be embarrassingly bad, will you want to work on it?
You might receive good feedback on a cover letter from your advisor, and you might still think, “They’re only being nice!”. So I probably won’t be able to pull this off. But, what do you do to push for bigger and better opportunities?
Even if the answer to any of these questions is a “yes” only sometimes, the issue of imposterism is that it’s taking things from you━your confidence, power, motivation, and drive. So, like the writer’s block, it’s important that you understand and articulate the meaning of your blocks, so that you can move past them in both your daily life and your career.
You know that you’ve worked very hard. It is true that you are capable. It is true that you belong where you are because you worked hard to get to that place.
How to overcome the problem of the imposter syndrome.
There are a few basic ways you can combat imposter syndrome and remove it as a writing roadblock.
- Identify the problem.
If you are able to define what that annoying, anxious feeling is, that is empowering. You must really put your intentions behind any work that you do. The first thing that you should do is to call out the issue when you feel it. Do that in order that you can intentionally work toward removing the blockage. It is important to call out the issues like people call out their writer’s block. So time and practice will enable you to become faster at naming these issues.
2. So, talk about it.
While no one loves talking about problems they are having, especially at work or school for fear of looking weak, one study showed up to 82% of participants  dealt with imposter syndrome. If you talk about it openly, you will find that many other people will also be doing it.
It is important that people trust and respect others. They may be able to empathize with you and support you as you work towards moving past your difficulties.
3. Do not forget to take notes.
If your main complaint is that you feel that everyone is disingenuous and that you and your work are “going easy” on them, then it is best to have a list of statistics that will remind you that all those things are false. Record the admissions statistics, your class rank, and how much of your grant or scholarship applicants were actually funded. Include all these things and more in your work.
Do not forget negative feedback, negative reviews, and bad grades. Keep a list of all the positive feedback and other accomplishments that you’re proud of. That is the best way to ground yourself in that. If you focus on a few bad teaching reviews out of thirty, or on one bad grade in a quarter, you may find that your view of your accomplishments is biased, even if only a small percentage of the review was negative.
When you have trouble, and you always seem to find a way to blame yourself, write down the actual cause of your trouble. When you find the reason for the problem, write it down. Your fault may seem obvious to some people, but while I was studying, I realized that nothing that you can do can cause someone else to fail. So, if someone bumps into an experimental setup, or if a piece of tubing that is rated for high temperature fails prematurely, there is nothing that I can do to cause that. I blamed myself for the things that I had to do, but it did not change the fact that I was forced to do them again. It just caused me to feel worse during the process.
These ideas are easy to understand in theory, but they are difficult to put into practice in some way because there is a need to retrain your brain. It is important that you change the negative inner monologue that you have concerning your skills, potential, and work ethic.
Procrastination is like a roadblock.
Procrastination can be a very potent roadblock that can stay on the road for a long time, and can significantly hinder our work. It is very frustrating to experience that, if you were given the choice, you would choose to move forward and finish your work before your deadlines. Instead, you procrastinate. Do not be able to stop procrastinating, and that can cause you to feel helpless and stressed about the mountain of work that you are awaiting.
Procrastination is not actually doing what needs to be done. It is simply deciding, whether consciously or not, that what you want to do is better done later.
When you have assignments or tasks that need to be completed, but you don’t feel like working on them, or, for whatever reason, feel as though you actually cannot work on them at that moment, there is a choice.
Procrastinating isn’t always a choice that you have made. But when you try to force yourself to write or start a project, it’s easy to get distracted. So when you start doing something else, and you realize that you are procrastinating, it becomes hard to choose a way out of that loop. Sometimes, you sit down and you are writing something, but you realize that you are not making progress. So you decide to procrastinate.
Procrastination can manifest itself in the following ways:
- I feel that I am mentally blocked, and I am lacking in ideas and clarity.
- You may choose to do something less important than the one that is urgent.
- You may be feeling stuck or you may feel overwhelmed by the work.
- Fear that your work will not meet the quality standards, and be anxious about the outcome.
- It is easy to become overwhelmed by the task, and to not know where to start.
As for myself, none of those things feel good. That is why it is so easy to put off writing or other important work until later.
It is possible that “later” is a nebulous concept. But when there are deadlines, the stress of not having worked on a task that needs to be finished soon causes a negative feedback loop in your workflow.
Procrastination vs. Laziness
It is important to make a distinction between procrastination and laziness. It is simple laziness; not caring to do something; it is apathy and lack of drive and commitment. Procrastination, on the other hand, is about not being able to work “on” or “in the flow” when you have to do something. You often choose to put it off or work on something else.
There is no benefit in calling yourself lazy when the real issue is procrastination. Here is a simple question to ask yourself in order to help you to see the difference.
If I could choose to feel empowered and do this work now, what would I do?
If yes, then it’s procrastination.
If no, then it’s laziness.
How do I overcome my procrastination?
Procrastination is a hard issue to tackle. It feels counterintuitive to push yourself when you are already at a point where you feel that you either cannot or are not willing to do your best work, even if you try your hardest. It is possible to find out how to deal with certain obstacles, but it does not stop you feeling helpless when you have to deal with those obstacles.
Some strategies to help you combat the procrastination problem.
- You must acknowledge that you are procrastinating. You should be intentional about exploring the options for breaking free. So, do not beat yourself up about it, but instead, do something about it.
- When you think about it, realize why you are procrastinating. When you are worried about your assignments, or when you are overwhelmed by your everyday life, or when you are worried about failing, articulating them can help you plan more effectively.
- Take big tasks and break them into smaller pieces that you can finish in one morning or afternoon or less. It is much easier to have a ladder with a lot of closely spaced rungs than a ladder with just a few rungs spaced far apart. This is a quick way of empowering yourself to make continual progress and not get stuck. You can do this at any time in the life of your project, not just at the beginning.
- Make a list of the 1-3 finite tasks that you must complete for the following day. Do this when you are sleeping, so that you can immediately start doing that work in the morning. When you finish all these tasks, you will feel better, and you will be more confident, which will help you to find the state where you are writing/working.
- Do things like exercise and meditation. They will boost your energy, give you a sense of accomplishment, sharpen your overall focus, and motivate you to achieve anything.
- Be offline, away from distractions, and mitigate the issue. That is, be away from a messy desk that distracts you from the work at hand.
Waiting for people to feel like doing something is not the answer to procrastination if you have no deadlines and endless time to wait. This is the key to achieving desired results and finding remedies that work for you.
Some of these tips will work well for you and some of them will not. It may also be true that some people work better in different seasons of life or at different levels of stress. It is important to make the choice to try something different, and not just browse on your phone for hours.
Writing roadblocks can be very difficult, but with a little self-awareness, a little purpose, and a little experimentation, you can overcome them.
In our next series on the unproductive feedback loop, we will take a deeper dive into how each of the major writing roadblocks that we discussed in this series can contribute to a deeper, and longer-lasting, feeling of being stuck. We’ll discuss the loop, and how to get out of it, get unstuck, and build a workflow that assists you in negotiating those issues so that you don’t get stuck making very little progress over long periods of time.