Zen, Disrupted Vol. 2 | Writing, Editing, and Publishing

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

(Originally published Jan. 13, 2021 to my Artful Buddhist blog on Substack)

Success! I set out to begin a consistent writing practice, and I have written every day for more than 18 months.

Publishing, which is required in my profession, is gut wrenchingly difficult for me: editing is nearly impossible, as I can’t “see the forest for the trees.” So, what feels tortuous to other academics, as well, pushes me to the point of simply shutting down. The stress, indecision, uncertainty, and inability ever to know a topic completely keeps me from publishing lots of my ideas.

I realize most academics have this feeling. But, for me it is excruciating.

I have more partially completed projects that I will ever admit (so don’t ask): folders filled with information; lots of outlines, bibliographies, resources (e.g., reading material) beyond what I need for any single publication; yet even after writing partial essays, my anxiety has not yet compelled me to complete those projects; instead, anxiety keeps me from moving forward with them: I freeze up, like I do when organizing too many art supplies, for example (see my first post).

We Aspies want to amass more and more information, often about hyper-specialized topics, and then we can’t figure out how to convey that other than by spewing a ton of details: I’m happy to tell you about every single one, even as your eyes glaze over.

As a procrastination ploy, one might call this analysis paralysis, and it plagues many academics. Until recently, that’s how I would interpret my own inability to edit my work. But, even when I’ve made serious efforts at shaping my writing into a book proposal, I end up with a very long list of possible book titles, but not an actual proposal.

· I’ve tried using word searches to identify topics;

· I tried proceeding chronologically;

· I tried starting with my first Post-Aspie memoir entry.

Nothing. Worked.

Why am I surprised?

Success 2: I overhauled my Buddhism course, but also amassed 100 pages of typed notes (single-spaced, as usual). But I am still struggling to distill the salient teaching portions for the start of the term, which starts in a few days. I simply have too much information. It’s not a grad seminar. I need to back off, remember that the students are novices, and I need to “meet them where they are.”

I’m having trouble writing to a non-academic audience but I want the academics to find this information useful. By “academic audience,” I’m also referring to the (often) double-blind peer-review process that aims at “quality control,” to put it crassly.

Ironically, it is the restrictive nature of academic writing that foils my editing efforts. As an Aspie, I have a tendency toward rigidity, patterns, and following rules. It brings comfort. And, as much as academic writing would seem to be a perfect fit for those traits, I strive to break free from those restrictions. Does that make sense? It’s a strange situation.

But it’s a situation that meshes with my tendency toward perfectionism, which actually plagues plenty of academics (and others). When I couple perfectionism with my “Aspie desire” to accumulate massive amounts of information on specialized topics, I end up with a lot of unfinished projects.

Learning of my Aspie status has made clear that I need to work with an editor. An editor can help me prioritize and organize my writing. But an editor can’t enter my head. An editor can’t experience what I’m feeling as I struggle to express myself clearly.

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