Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 7:

“I’m afraid of writing because my idea is very controversial or triggering.”

Sometimes we can’t write because we are afraid that our ideas will come back and bite us. Like many writing fears, this one is entirely rational. Scholars do attack new ideas.


But sometimes even we don’t like our findings.

One student had done a study on earnings and ethnicity, hypothesizing that salaries would be lower for a minority group in a certain profession. Her analysis of the data revealed that there was no significant difference. This finding went against her own experience and was disturbing to her adviser.

Whenever the student thought about writing, she felt shut down. Even if her initial findings were true, were they what she wanted to associate her name with? She felt an obligation to the truth, but also to justice and her career. How could she write when she was caught between such hard places?

As is so often the case, she found her way out through writing.

She used the discussion and conclusion section of her article to suggest some alternative approaches to understanding the findings. She then used them as a platform for extending her future research to incorporate a more detailed investigation of earnings by adding qualitative in-depth interviews to her previous quantitative approach.

In other words, she used an obstacle to become a better scholar. If you find yourself in a similar position, talking and writing can be the cure.


But what about if you love your findings, but are worried that others won’t?

One solution is to have more scholars than usual read your work. This will help you avoid small errors that can draw fire when people are looking for reasons to attack. Some advise you give it to hostile readers, but I don’t think that is necessary. Just ask your readers to imagine what they think the possible objections will be.

Another solution is to find your people. Having a community of those doing scholarship like yours will make you feel stronger. Often, this will require reaching out online and creating a virtual community. It’s an unfortunate truth that many of those doing the most fascinating work cannot find support at their own institutions.

Still another solution is to wait. I’ve noticed that scholars often publish their most controversial work later. Edward Said’s first book was the anodyne Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966); his third book was the brilliant and controversial Orientalism (1978). 

But mostly what I have to say is this: it’s tough for anyone to write when they know their ideas have a good chance of being ill-received. Be kind to yourself.

Solution to Writing Obstacle No. 7, 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).