Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 18:

“I really can’t move forward on this writing project due to others’ inaction.”

Sometimes, through no fault of your own, you cannot write. You must wait for a result. Or further funding. Or your adviser’s response. Or your coauthor’s section. Or your coauthor’s edits on your section.

If you cannot write due to the inaction of someone else, you have a couple of options.

Email Reminders

Don’t hesitate to remind others that they owe you a response and/or writing. Many novice authors feel hesitant to “nag” advisers, or senior coauthors, but a brief email can be very helpful to busy people. Emailing once every two weeks or more about a writing project can never be considered rude by anyone. Depending on the urgency of the project, you can send more often.

Just make sure your email is short and without an angry or resentful tone. An example is “Hi [Senior Blocker]: I just wanted to check in about how that Discussion section on our article ‘Title’ is going. Once we have that, we are ready to submit.” You can also remind them of how long it has been by using the word “only,” even if it has been a while. “I realize it has been only a month, but I wanted to check in on whether you have any feedback for me on my article ‘Title,’ which I hope to submit as soon as possible, so that I have something under review while I am on the job market.”

Move Forward Anyway

However, make sure that someone else’s inaction is actually preventing you from working on the article.

For instance, you don’t actually need your adviser’s approval before submitting your article to a journal. Yes, it is good to ask, especially if they are coauthors, but if they don’t respond, it’s on them. Move forward on your own. Indeed, sometimes a lack of response can be freeing because it means you can make the decisions you think best.

If all else fails, you can tidy your citations, try out other statistical methods, or run the Belcher Editing Diagnostic Test, in Week 11 of the writing workbook, on the piece and then revise it for brevity and clarity. That takes a while!

Switch Projects

If you truly are blocked on one writing project, turn to another. Success correlates with authors who are not monomaniacal but have several writing projects going at once (Boice 2000). Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only full-time dedication to a single project will result in success. 

Here are some things you can do if you are brought to a standstill on one project.

  • Draft ideas for another article.
  • Revisit an old article or conference paper you never revised for publication.
  • Work on book proposals or grant applications, as they can help you think through your ideas or come up with prose for article claims for significance. 

You should always be moving forward on some writing front.

Works Cited

Boice, Robert. 2000. Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus: Allyn & Bacon.

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 18, one of the human obstacles listed on page 32 of Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press, 2019).