Professional Development: Dealing with Writer’s Block

Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creationLast month we discussed the ever present need for continuing professional development for librarians, especially as it relates to professional writing and presenting.  Every librarian, indeed every writer who has attempted to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as the muse prefers), has experienced at one time or another the dreaded “Writer’s Block.”

So how do we tackle this frustrating state of being?  Especially as we near writing deadlines and feel the dread of nothingness assail us every time we attempt to work on our manuscripts. Books on writing and writing blogs abound with ideas concerning defeating writer’s block.  “Don’t let your fears paralyze you,” advises Paul Blobaum 1 in his “Pep Talk on Writing the Awful First Draft.”  The goal is to get ideas on paper, not to have good grammar, correct spelling, or even accurate facts throughout.  All that comes in the many later drafts. “The first draft,” he continues, “is a labororatory for working things out.”  To this, I would add, don’t feel compelled to start at the beginning.  Just start SOMEwhere…start with your favorite part, capture ideas and phrases, sketch out structures for your article, don’t hesitate to put in place holders that say “I will talk about “x” and “y” here and how “z” is different here.  You can always go back and tackle those areas one at a time later.

There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough. - William Stafford

Another common technique that some people use is called “freewriting.”  The University of Richmond’s Writing Center describes the priming-the-creative-pump exercise on their website, Writer’s Web.  This technique is also somewhat like Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” technique which was made famous in her best-selling book, The Artist’s Way.  She calls it her “bedrock tool of a creative recovery.”  (Listen to her short 2 minute explanation of Morning Pages on the link above.)  While Ms. Cameron is addressing a more basic problem of lost creativity, it relates to us when we are stuck trying to start or continue a professional writing article as well… the freedom to write whatever crosses our mind for a measured period of time can free up our creative juices so that we are better able to concentrate and create on the scholarly subject at hand.

Other ways to kick the writer’s block are explored by our friends at Purdue OWL: “Symptoms and Cures for Writer’s Block,”  and Dora Farkas at Next Scientist offers PhD students hope with “12 Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block for PhD Students”.  I found this article to contain a number of helpful ideas for those of us working on complex research writings.

Charlie Anders wrote a fun article called “The 10 Types of Writers’ Block (and How to Overcome Them”.  While directed at fiction writers (you’ll love all the old vintage sci-fi pulp fiction book covers throughout his article), he makes several points that can be extrapolated to those of us working on Scholarly articles:  “#2  You have ton’s of ideas and can’t commit to any of them”; “#3.  You have an outline but can’t get through one part of it”; and my personal favorite “#9. You had this incredibly cool story in your head, and now you’re turning it into words on a screen and it’s suddenly dumb.”  We all have experienced these and many other frustrating feelings related to writer’s block at one time or another.  It is good to know we are not alone in our feelings; regardless of how things might seem, the very simple, and oh so hard solution is to just keep writing anyway.

 

 

1Blobaum, Paul. “A Pep Talk on Writing the Awful First Draft,” in Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook, edited by Carol Smallwood, ALA Editions, 2010. pp 18-19.

 

Increasing Our Professional Development

writing_image_512px-CreativeJanuary often encourages us to reevaluate our goals; indeed, our annual review and subsequent goal-setting process that many of us are required to undertake at our places of business forces this time of reflection upon us. Like many of the rest of you, I just participated in setting my professional goals for 2016. As well as job related goals, I was asked to determine my creative goals, both in terms of presentations I hoped to develop and present at conferences as well as my writing goals. This process, along with the subsequent discussions with co-workers, had me thinking more about the creative process.  Several individuals were struggling with coming up with ideas for their possible articles and presentations, and I recognized that I, myself, had been struggling with ideas for topics to post on this blog recently.

So, where do ideas such as these come from?  For me, it is not so much idea creation, as idea recognition.  Over time, I have developed a sort of lurking attention in the back of my mind that jumps out like a child calling “BOO!” ghost-572534_640when it recognizes something I encounter during my day as a possible blog post, article or presentation topic. Rhoda Israelov from the Say It For You blog had another interesting idea.  She suggests, “when you put two things together that don’t seem to match – that can be a good technique to capture people’s interest.”  I liked this idea and plan to add it to my “idea starter’s” list. There are all sorts of other ways that ideas can originate:

  • A question from a patron
  • An article, blog post, tweet, or even a picture that makes you ask a question or What if? or What next?
  • A story of what happened to you when you tried something and it was a great success… or even better, a great failure.  What did you learn?  Everyone loves a good story!
  • Our Library Professional Development group is actually planning a conference topic brainstorming session for librarians.  Many heads make for lots of ideas.
  • Browse some key journals in your field.  What are the hot trends?  What do you have to say or what do they spark you to research further?
  • Look at those same journals.  What isn’t trending anymore?  Why?  Do you agree?  Do you have something to suggest to explore there that might change the way that trend is going?
  • Browse some journals totally OUTside your field.  Look at top business journals or what internet content marketers are doing.  How might those skills or ideas be applied to your field?  What do they have to offer to the academic audience?
  • ASK for ideas!  Poll your audience, talk to people.  What do they want to know about?
  • Be alert to conversations going on around  you.  All those “yeah, that would be nice to know” comments could alert you to a question that nobody else is taking the time to investigate.
  • Choose a person, holiday, event that intrigues you and share what you learn about it. For librarians, this is a great way to slip in teaching about a resource the library has… hook them with an interesting story, then tell the reader how they can find more!
  • Interview someone interesting… and almost anyone can be interesting if you find the right question to ask them.  Start with a question like “what inspires you?” or “5 things don’t most people know about you.”  You’ll be amazed at what you uncover.

Neil Gaiman had one of the best discourses on the topic of “where do your ideas come from” and I’d like to close this post with a teaser from his own words.  I encourage you to go read the whole article. On his website, neilgaiman.com, he talks about the important questions to ask yourself:  “What if?”  “If only…” and “I wonder…”  He muses, “Those questions, and others like them, and the questions they, in their turn, pose (‘Well, if cats used to rule the world, why don’t they any more? And how do they feel about that?’) are one of the places ideas come from. “

October was the month for conferences

October seemed to be the month for conferences and presentations for me.  I presented twice with colleagues at the Georgia Library Association’s annual conference (COMO) and also late in October at Internet Librarian.  With so much traveling and being out of the office in October, November got away from me and here we are, already rushing through December.  Rather than try to create a new topic for this month, I’d like to post links and reflect on some of my presentations in October.

First up was the Annual Georgia Library Association meeting.  Kennesaw State University was out in full force at this event with many presentations, often at same time from one another.  The guys from Unshelved were keynote speakers.  I love their comic strips,  but I had a presentation slot directly after them and was not able to attend their presentation.  I could hear the laughter from the room as well as the roar of applause at the end, so I know it was a great session, and one that I was sorry to miss.

My first presentation was with my previous manager from Georgia Tech, Lori Critz.  We presented: “Reaching the Forgotten Demographic: Customizing Services for Graduate Students.”  Because our PowerPoint was mostly a collection of screenshots from other universities as a kind of smorgasbord of the types of graduate programming occurring in libraries around the country, we did not post it online after the conference for copyright reasons.  We looked at other research institutions’ library websites to discover what types of unique or interesting services and spaces they were offering for graduate students.  We hope to expand our research in the coming year to look at comprehensive universities (like Kennesaw State University) as well.

I also presented with my new co-worker and past collaborator for this blog, Elisabeth Shields.  Our presentation: Knowledge Mapping Tools: Visualizing Research was an overview of the different kinds of knowledge mapping useful to academics and the different uses of each.  We considered concept mapping, mind mapping and argument mapping.  Each of these tools, while often lumped together, actually have distinct features and applications which are most effective for creating each.  Elisabeth has studied Knowledge Mapping extensively and posted several wonderful in-depth articles here on this blog on the topic, and I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about concept mapping and argument mapping which are used more extensively in the humanities and social sciences which she supports.

Finally, I rounded out the month with a trip across the country to present at Internet Librarian in Monterey, California.  There I presented Content Curation: Academic Outreach Opportunities Beyond the Institutional Repository. This is a topic that I feel really strongly about and see great opportunities for librarians to step up and help our faculty and students organize their personal research content.  There are so many content curation tools on the web and those who effectively use these tools have a networking advantage to their peers who do not interact or follow the content produced on these tools.  My presentation gave an overview of several examples where academics were already incorporating content curation tools in their instruction, and I provided several ideas on how librarians might begin to become involved.

As the Christmas and New Year’s season continues to rush toward us, I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you continuing to follow this blog.  I am looking forward to returning next January energized and ready to explore PKM with each of you.

Happy Holidays!

Book Review: New Routes to Library Success by Elisabeth Doucett

Elisabeth Doucett with her new bookI recently had the opportunity to read the new book by Elisabeth Doucett entitled New Routes to LIbrary Success: 100+ Ideas from outside the stacks published by ALA Editions.  Elisabeth is the Director of the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Maine, and the author of the blog The irreverent librarian.  Even though the book is by a public librarian, I think it is well worth reviewing by librarians of all disciplines.

Elisabeth states in her preface, “As library professionals I think we miss out on opportunities because we do not often enough tap the ideas, innovations, and way of working of different professions,” (preface, p. x)  Bravo!  This belief really resonated with me and reflects a good deal of what we at academicpkm.org have been trying to do since our inception. Needless to say, I was hooked.

Doucett arranges the chapters of her books around major themes: entrepreneurship, creativity, customer service, trend tracking, content curation, etc.  In each chapter, she found a business leader whose achievements personified the theme at hand and interviewed them to discover how they accomplished their success in their respective businesses.  Resonating with the feel of “A Day in the Life Of” type interview transcripts, Doucett presented their stories, and pointed us in the direction of how we might apply their wisdom to our own professional arenas.  The book’s organization made it ideal as an idea book that could be picked up, a chapter chosen and easily read in a short amount of time.  Sometimes I chose my chapter based on the chapter theme, other times, by the business professional interviewed (hey! let’s read what Chris Wilson from L.L. Bean has to say… they have great customer service!).

The first chapter I read was on content curation.  This was the real reason that I had first picked up the book: I am preparing for a presentation on content curation as an outreach tool for academic librarians and was eager to hear what another librarian had to say. What I found was another librarian who shared my view: “Content curation is useful to libraries because it can help them build relationships with new audiences in their communities.” (p 187).  I was so excited that I wrote Doucett what amounted to a fan letter. 🙂

After I finished the rest of my preparation of my presentation, I returned to read more of Doucett’s book.  Each chapter had nuggets that I could glean for later thought and inspiration. Chapter 2 on Entrepreneurship with Josh Davis of Gelato Fiasco, offered many ideas about how to create a “culture of controlled experimentation.” Chapter 3: Creavitity with Walter Briggs of Briggs Advertising, urged us to “foster resilience.”  I found out that Google gives employee’s 20% of their time to focus on creative development… can you imagine what we might create if librarians had the same opportunity?? I really loved the list of creative thinking/prompting tools that were included with this chapter.

I could go on and on… The Chapters are all set up with nice browsable sections, including action points, implications,big ideas, take-aways, summary of what Doucett learned, resources for further exploration and a list of questions that Doucett used when interviewing her experts.  Her hope is that librarians will use these questions to find their own inspiring experts in other realms to interview as well and add to the insights she has gleaned so far.

Links Roundup #30

saddle and ropeTwitter for Teaching, Anyone? My friend at Teaching in Higher Ed, Bonni Stachowiak, did a recent podcast on the topic Teaching with Twitter, interviewing Jesse Stommel.  Some great insights there worth checking out.

And while we are on the topic of Twitter, Kris Shaffer offers a great introduction to both Twitter and TweetDeck on his blog post, Twitter Basics.  I had never tried TweetDeck before, and I find I really love it.  I just wish there was an android version!

As we go into the busy, hectic schedules of fall, I found this helpful post from the folks at mindful.org: Audio Resources for Mindfulness Meditation.  Have to love free resources! Especially when they refresh, relax and re-center us!

A few recent posts on the familiar battle between Microsoft OneNote and Evernote for most popular notetaking software yields us these two posts:  6 things Evernote does that Microsoft OneNote can’t  and 7 things Microsoft OneNote does that Evernote can’t.  This ongoing battle is the best thing possible for users as both products continue to get better and better!

Finally, it’s that time again.  Voting is in full swing for the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2015.  You have until September 18th to submit your top 10 picks to Jane Hart.  This is a great resource and service that Jane provides to all of us who love our online tools.  Participate today!

School Days, School Days…. or so the children’s song goes.  Our University opened for the Fall Semester this week, students are everywhere, and the energy, sounds of voices and hurrying bodies from place to place begins again.  Wishing all our readers a great start to the new year!

Book Review: Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko

copy of Thinktoys book coverOur Library has a professional development book club, and Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko was our latest  reading.  While not a new book  (the 2nd edition came out in 2006), it was new to me, and worth sharing with my academicpkm audience.

Michael Michalko developed many of his innovative thinking methods while leading a NATO team to solve international problems during his service in the US Army.  He also organized CIA thinktanks and is an established expert in creative thinking techniques who is in high demand consultant and keynote speaker for many Fortune 500 companies.  His best-selling book, Thinkertoys, is regarded as one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time by CEO-READ.   I’m surprised I have never run across the book until recently, but I’m glad I did!

This book explores a number of different methods for looking at problems in new and unconventional ways, opening our minds to see options and alternatives we might not have otherwise considered. It is organized to be a working handbook that can be turned to when a new approach is desired for breaking through problem blocks or to stimulate new ideas or thoughts.  The exercises are categorized into Linear Thinkertoys (more of an analytical, left-brain approaches), Intuitive Thinkertoys (focusing more on right-brain approaches) and even some group-based exercises. Michael explains that “The worth of the ideas you create will depend in large part upon the way you define your problems… Nothing is more harmful to a positive creative attitude than fears, uncertainties and doubts.”

How do his exercises work?  By providing a plethora of different ways to approach thinking.  Stymied on solving a particular problem?  Maybe his False Facts techniques would help.  This exercise has you search for new ideas by challenging and reversing what you believe to be the conventional assumptions about the problem.  Or maybe dividing the problem into its components and then reassembling it in a different way would help.  That is the technique that Michael describes as Cherry Split.  Another technique that might be more familiar to readers of this blog is mind mapping. We’ve discussed this technique and several tools for mind mapping here in the past.  Michael lists mindmapping (his chapter called Think Bubbles) as one of his Linear Thinkertoys.

The Intuitive section of Thinkertoys contains many exercises that are based on the belief that your subconscious already knows the answer which you are seeking. Once you make that assumption, the question becomes where and how do you look for the answer?  How do you release it from your subconscious mind? The techniques in this section of the book are designed to help the reader obtain that “flash of brilliance” that will provide solutions they need.  Michael’s exercise “Blue Roses” focuses on ways to develop one’s sense of intuition and “Dreamscape” describes how to capture ideas that are released in your dreams.

With thirty-nine chapters of ideas, I’ve only scratched the surface of this handbook’s offerings. Check it out!

 

I found this interesting videocast by Miriam Knight from a few years ago where she interviewed Michael for another of his books (Creative Thinkering).  It is almost 30 minutes long, but he is fascinating to listen to.  I hope you enjoy it as well.