Learning to write, again.
Pals, I used to be so good at writing. In grade school, in high school, in college, heck, even in my masters program, I was great at writing papers! So good, in fact that I could often put off my papers until the last minute (or at least, a far later minute than my teachers and professors intended), show up at my computer and have ideas just ready to be typed out! The words flew out of my fingers onto the page! The feedback was great! I was so good! But then, all of the sudden (it felt like), I was very bad at writing.
I wrote a little bit about how I came to see myself as a "bad writer" in this post, but today, I want to offer some practical advice for those who are finding themselves needing some encouragement around something hard that maybe once was easier.
Be patient with yourself. Frustration is a natural response to feeling like you aren't meeting a standard, and trying to will yourself to feel otherwise (or feel in any specific way, period!) is usually counterproductive.
Remember that you're raising your writing level, and that with growth comes growing pains. Anyone who has ever trained their body to do something physical, or practiced a skill, or rehearsed a performance, knows that the progress curve is not a smooth one. Number of hours put in does not necessarily equate to a smooth line of growth from point A to point B. It's okay to have to work on acquiring new skills - but it can feel uncomfortable, repetitive, and frustrating. Try thinking about it more like practice and less like perfection from the go.
Build in new networks of support. I am no longer a solitary writer, even though I used to be. Lots of people - from writing center staff, to writing groups, to friends, to family, as well as editors - read my writing now. That doesn't mean I'm a bad writer, that just means I am looking for feedback actively.
Which brings me to my next point: look for feedback actively. If you ask for feedback in a proactive way, from peers as well as supervisors, you can control that process (and sometimes even shape the kind of feedback you get!) Feeling in control of feedback usually feels better than waiting for your work to be torn apart by supervisors or peer reviewers or editors at some unknown point in the future.
Let yourself imagine writing as a skill you will always practice and improve on, rather than a goal to be "achieved". There is no magical checkpoint where academic writers suddenly cease having to work on their writing - not even tenure! You will always be working to make your writing more clear, more concise, more accurate, more engaging. Acknowledging that we will always have to keep working can help ease the "I was already good at this!" frustration.
It is hard to feel "bad" at something that used to get you a lot of praise and validation. It can be a massive blow to the ego (it definitely was to mine!) to feel like I was not good at something and to have to "go back to the basics." But viewing my writing as a craft has helped me to see that there is no good or bad writing; writing is a skill that we're always deepening, honing, and improving because it's the only way to get what you know out of your head and into the world.