On productive(?) procrastination

So about a year ago, I finished a six month sabbatical in which the main research project I worked on was a literature review on creative writing pedagogy (as well as related topics such as the history of creative writing as an academic subject). This project was meant to strengthen my foundation of knowledge on the topic so that I could write an article exploring why creative research is not a standard part of creative writing instruction. I wanted to know enough so that I could publish my work in a journal outside my own field without looking like a complete idiot.

Admittedly, I didn’t get as much done with this project during my sabbatical as I was perhaps hoping for when I first conceived it. Mostly this was because when I applied for my sabbatical in fall 2019, I wasn’t expecting that by the time it actually started in fall 2020, the world would be in the middle of a global pandemic. But also I ended up working on a book project that I hadn’t entirely planned for, either.

Still, by the time my sabbatical was done I’d read about 11 books and 20+ articles on the topic. Based on what I’d read, I managed to complete a draft of my intended article by the end of spring 2021. I knew that what I had needed a lot of work but I thought I was in good shape to submit the thing by fall 2021.

Now fall 2021 has come and gone and spring 2022 is under way. My article continues to go unsubmitted.

It’s not that I’m not working on it. There was a short period of time where I did have to put it in a drawer for a little while to focus on other, more urgent things. But I’ve been working on it steadily for about three months now and, if anything, I feel further from being ready to submit than I was last spring.

Part of this is justified, I think. One of the things I was working on while this article was in the drawer was another article on the role of research in creative writing, which I’d submitted for review to portal (to be published later this year). The feedback that I received from the reviewers at that journal helped me see that I’d spent so much time immersed in my investigation about creative research that I’d developed some significant blind spots in my writing. When I returned to my article on creative writing pedagogy, I saw a lot of the same blind spots  in the existing draft. I ended up tearing the whole thing down and starting over again and I think the draft I have now is a lot stronger.

So why am I still working on it?

The literal answer is that I wanted to spend some time rounding out my literature review with some more recent publications (the one I did before focused mostly on those that are highly cited, which tend to be older). I also decided to redo an investigation of creative writing program websites to see what I could find, if anything, about what they teach about creative research. My reasoning for this redo is that the first time I did it, my choice of programs wasn’t well-informed. I wanted to take a new approach that would be easier to justify even though in my current draft this entire investigation takes up approximately two sentences of the whole article.

This dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s is all well and good and it might even benefit my work in the end. But the real reason I haven’t submitted anything yet is because, frankly, I’m scared.

Submitting a manuscript for review is always a nerve-racking prospect for me, especially given my past experiences with receiving some harsh feedback on my work. (The feedback itself was usually justified. The tone it was delivered often was not.) It’s hard to willingly subject yourself and your work to the possibility of that kind of teardown. This is even more true when the work is something you are excited about or truly believe in.

But at least when I’ve submitted my work in the past, it’s always to fellow experts in my own field. Even when the reviewers didn’t agree with me on certain aspects of my research, we were all coming from a place of shared expertise.

This article on creative writing pedagogy is different because I’m hoping to submit it for review not to a journal in my own field, but in the writing studies field. Which means it will be reviewed by people who are actual experts on this topic and who will know (because it’s stated as part of the article’s premise) that I am very much not.

Obviously, that’s what the extensive literature review is supposed to be for but even with 50+ sources now on my list, I worry that I haven’t done enough. Or that I’m missing important context for what I have read because this is not my field. This is not what I do every day. This is not what I study. Who am I to be telling creative writing instructors anything about what they should be teaching or how they should be teaching it?

Of course, this all begs the question of why I felt the need to write an article outside my field in the first place. Why not write something that covers the same points but that is intended for librarians?

I suppose that would be possible, though it would take some work to find a good angle or figure out why librarians should care about creative writing pedagogy.

But I think the reason I’m trying to tackle things from this angle is because in trying to understand not only how creative writers do research but how they even develop their research practices, it occurred to me to wonder why I’d never learned about creative research as a creative writing student. Wondering that sent me on a journey to understand why creative research wasn’t part of the curriculum in my program. Which led me to try to understand why it’s not a part of the curriculum for any creative writing program, as far as I can tell.

That story makes a better fit for a writing studies journal than an LIS one but until someone in that field sees it, I won’t know whether what I’m saying has any value to the people I want to say it to.

There’s no way to find that out without submitting it somewhere. I just have to stop dragging my feet and work up the nerve to do it.

My new goal is to submit the article somewhere by the end of summer 2022. That’s almost a whole year after I thought I was ready to submit it the first time. I think taking the extra time will be a good thing in the end. I think right now the “productive procrastination” I’m engaging in is more productive than procrastination—at least that’s what I keep telling myself. At some point, though, the balance is going to shift. When it turns into pure procrastination, that’s when I’m really going to have to work on talking myself into taking that next step.

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