Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 32:

“I’m so far behind in writing for publication, what’s the point of trying now? I’m not smart enough to do this kind of writing anyway.”

We send ourselves such terrible messages.

In graduate school, a friend posted an article on the wall above her computer, where she could see it when writing her dissertation. When I asked her why she had posted this article, she responded, “It’s such a theoretically sophisticated article, published by someone who was a year ahead of me in graduate school.” I assumed she would then say something about it inspiring her, but she said, “I post it there to prove to myself that I will never get published.”

If you are doing such defeatist things, stop!

You don’t have to believe you are a genius to publish good work. Indeed, sometimes the most comforting response to our feelings of insecurity is to allow them. Maybe you are not as smart as your colleagues are. Or, maybe you are not smart enough to do statistics, learn several languages, understand complex theory, lecture without notes, or write without agony.

But, that’s not the right approach. The right question is not “Am I smart enough to do this work?” but “Am I passionate enough?”

Do you believe that the topic or argument of your article can make a contribution in the world? Sometimes it is easier to believe in the project than in yourself, and that’s okay.

Many average people have accomplished extraordinary things through their commitment and passion. Through hard work, they developed skills that were not innate.

Maybe you are smart enough, or maybe you aren’t. But if you care deeply about what you are doing, it may not matter. Often, passion will carry you when bare skills won’t.

Years ago, an activist said to me, “Do we wish we had someone better than you, Wendy, to do this research—someone with more languages, more knowledge, more training? Sure. But we don’t have that person, so you are it. Stop whining and get on with it.” His words were among the kindest anyone has ever said to me—they enabled me to shift from self-consciousness to work-consciousness.

Works Cited

Rowling, J. K. 1998. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury Publishers.

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 32, one of the confidence 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).