Distortions, Dramas, and Myths: Or, How to Tell The Truth About Your Writing

Consider this…

The things you tell yourself about your writing are not truth. They are stories.

And the wonderful thing about stories, is that you can rewrite them.

The entire reason I started Professor Is In in 2011 was to demystify the academy and what it takes to be successful in it.

Like the front page of this website says, “I tell you the truth.  The truth about grad school, the job market, and tenure. To the best of my ability.  I also tell you the truth about your applications and your record. If they are bad, I will tell you. And then we will get a plan to improve them.”

But, exposing the hidden truths of the job market is a very different task than helping individuals connect with their inner motivations.  The former is mostly divorced from content: It’s focused on packaging, and academics’ perennially bad habits of (and instincts for) self-presentation.  The latter, though, is about the work itself. And I, Karen, have not the slightest clue how to motivate anyone to do their own work. For me, the solution is, and always has been: “Just Write!”  It’s the same bad advice that friends and advisors have been giving writers forever. It’s about as helpful as when my ex-husband used to tell me, in the face of my (then) crippling fear of flying, “Just calm down.”  OBVIOUSLY, If I could calm down, I’d be calm.

OBVIOUSLY If you could write, you’d write.

Enter Kellee.

As the TPII Interview Intervention guru, Kellee Weinhold talks to people to via video. As she coaches them through key questions for interviews, she is literally face to face with their vulnerabilities. With Imposter Syndrome, with feelings of scholarly inadequacy, and with real-life struggles to succeed.

Three years ago, she made a proposal: If we are going to keep our commitment to pull back the curtain and expose the toxicity of the academy, we need to create a program that will help our clients with their struggles around productivity.

We need to tell the truth: Our entire academic system is constantly telling you that nothing is ever enough, that you should always be doing more. Maintaining a productive writing life in the face of that is exhausting. In other words, we need to tell clients who are struggling that there is nothing wrong with them.

After two years of small groups and beta testers, Kel launched her online coaching program Unstuck: The Art of Productivity. And lo, that program has changed thousands (actually thousands!) of lives.

Unstuck is incredible, and Kel is a genius. I am totally serious.

Her instincts for seeing just where things go wrong, and how to fix them, in the realm of academic productivity and motivation, are unparalleled.

“I chose a project in July that was competing with two others and is still in progress, my book proposal. I learned from Kel that it’s incredibly difficult and frustrating to try to keep three projects in the air at the same time.

That said, I finished 2 of the 3, a book review and the critical introduction to a special issue of a journal I have co-edited. I’m really proud of the second. And did this all while adjusting to being the new chair of my department (44 faculty members total).

In the seven months before I joined Unstuck, I fretted a lot. And didn’t submit anything other than a conference abstract or two.

I now take weekends completely off and don’t look at work stuff after I get home. I also write everyday, sometimes only morning pages, but that’s writing.”

I, Karen, am the first to admit, I find the Unstuck methods astonishing and mystifying. I am often in the room (just off camera) when Kel does her Unstuck coaching.  I listen to her, and I listen to the coaching groups and clients, and afterward I say,

“Why in the world does this work???”

Kel just laughs at me. She says: “This program is not for people like you. People like you are annoying.”

Because, I am one of the small number of people who basically just sit down and write. I decide to write a thing, I outline it, write it, edit it, and submit it, without much drama or delay.  It’s possible some of your advisors are, too.

I know we do NOT HELP with your struggle.  Because, we are the exception, not the norm.

Unfortunately, we are also the dominant narrative, the toxic myth. The whole enterprise is built on the idea that “other people” are happily writing, submitting, and growing their CV with nary a self doubt or anxious thought.

But here is the truth:  the TRUTH is that most people in the academy struggle mightily to overcome the 1) emotional, 2) psychological, and 3) logistical barriers to a productive writing life.

And while I may not be the target audience for Unstuck, I am a witness to its effectiveness for writers.

People do the Unstuck program, and suddenly, they start writing.

And they keep writing. And they open up documents that have been hidden away in a closet of shame for months or years. And they finish them. And press “submit.”  And complete and submit their dissertations. And complete and submit their articles. And complete and submit their books.

“I joined Unstuck last summer. Since then, I have submitted my book manuscript for review and submitted an article manuscript for review. Prior to that I was in a book revising funk for about a year. still tying up loose ends with the book and article but inching towards writing new material too. Most of all I have moved into the slow and steady wins the race philosophy thanks to Unstuck – without the feeling of panic or impending doom I once felt.”


This is not a joke.  Unstuck means productivity with your evenings and weekends free.

“I finally submitted my full dissertation to my committee! So grateful for all the support and the methods I learned with unstuck. I finally learned how to de dramatize writing and how to create a realistic – and surprisingly accurate – timeline to complete projects! Just one task at a time…”

What I can say with complete confidence is Unstuck starts from the same core principle as all of The Professor Is In: telling the truth.

In this case, the truth you learn to tell is about your own motivations and the stories that get in its way.

  • Do you really want to write the thing? Why?
  • Will you ever have the “5-hour blocks of unbroken writing time” that you continue to claim you will have (in the face of all evidence)?
  • What unconscious negative thoughts do you associate with sitting down to write? What level of shame? Are you willing to let them go?
  • How can you actually prioritize writing instead of just say you do?
  • Where have you lied to yourself about your own productivity over the years, and how little do you now trust yourself?

Telling the truth about these things is transformative. So transformative that one participant wrote a whole blog post about it!

“In the last couple of months, I completed my book revisions and wrote two articles. And submitted all of them. And as I wrote, I became happier with what I was writing and could relax and enjoy the meandering process of deep thinking through writing that inevitably takes me to unexpected places. And also, as I wrote, particularly through the book revisions in my response to the readers’ comments, I found a stronger and more confident voice. I learnt a whole bunch of ways to keep the feelings of overwhelm under control, which feels particularly timely, as I’m on my first year of a full-time job.

So thank you Kellee and everyone in this group for all the advice, sharing, and support. This has been transformative.”

And that is perhaps the most important gift of this course: Unstuck provides a supportive, caring community; so instead of the isolation and despondency that characterizes so much of academic life, participants are surrounded by fellow academics at every rank who are facing similar challenges AND encouraging one another through the process. That community is particularly valuable for those who struggle to balance their writing with family stressors, excessive service, and a deep-seated inability to say no.

To my eye, watching all this from the sidelines, Unstuck is just very, very… human, and perfectly reflects its creator:  warm, supportive, creative, and responsive.

It doesn’t rest on cookie-cutter advice; it gives each individual the tools to reach their own inner motivations.  This is, in my mind, its most meaningful attribute, and I think it is for clients too:

“Kellee, thanks for making me feel respected/valued as an individual and not just one among many clients. I love that you’re genuine in all your responses to individual questions and not just providing generic advice like some other academic productivity companies.”

The details:

The Unstuck program is a series of 12 modules of 5 units each (60 in total) that use videos, small targeted assignments, worksheets, and a variety of provocations and inspirations  – along with membership in a Facebook community of supportive fellow-travelers – to guide you in confronting your own fears about and barriers to writing.

Through these means, Unstuck helps you identify your places of blockage honestly, and it shows your how to lay down new cognitive “tracks” related to writing.  It helps you set realistic, attainable goals, and acknowledge and celebrate small achievements. And it gives you solutions to the inevitable setbacks and anxieties.

Here is a sample unit (Day 1, step 1):

“Welcome to Day 1, Step 1…”

You can also check out the free webinar Kellee did last week, teaching some of the key strategies of Unstuck.

If you are looking for a safe place to identify your roadblocks and learn from other people’s struggles, consider joining Unstuck. Our private social network is a safe, supportive place to say “I’m struggling,” without it affecting your tenure case, or how anybody responds to your dissertation.

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