Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 10:
“I feel like I have to amputate significant parts
of myself to write for academia.”
Disciplinary constraints, length limits, and journal expectations can make writing feel alienating. Academic writing depersonalizes research, and many disciplines (especially those trying to prove themselves as sciences), place little value on authors emotionally connecting to readers.
The scholar of race and biopolitics Ruha Benjamin first articulated this obstacle to me, and she added that the required performance of dispassion is particularly problematic in a world of real inequities. She quotes W. E. B. Dubois, who asked how one could be “a calm, cool, and detached scientist while Negroes were lynched, murdered, and starved”?
One antidote she recommended to me in an email is finding different ways to be “an engaged, passionate scholar—linking heart and mind—in how you write, think, and teach.”
This includes finding institutional spaces, students, and colleagues “where mind and heart are not at odds,” and also “engaging with people and communities outside of academia on a regular basis.” For her, this includes focusing on writing books not journal articles, as books do not have the same constraints.
Also, note that some of the writing that has changed the world the most is that which pushed genres or was straight up weird. Learning the conventions of your field, and how persuasion works in it, can help you to write articles that are a little bit you, a lot the field, and still change-agents.
Writing for a discipline is like learning a new language—tough and strange but essential for communicating in strange lands.
Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 10, one of the emotional obstacles listed on page 31 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).