Don’t fear the blank page

What better day than Halloween to face your fears… of the blank page?!

Ok, so forget me trying to be timely and topical – what I want to do in this post is share a few of the ways in which I’ve learned to no longer fear the start of a new writing project/chapter/ section.

What are you afraid of?

First up; what is it about the blank page that instils fear for you?

For some, it is fear that what will come out will not be good.

It may be that you have to get someone to read those words.

There might be a lot depending on the final document – for example, if you are writing a job application.

So, fear is understandable. It means you care. However, it is no good to let it paralyse you.

Understand your fear and then manage it.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Commit to overcoming the fear: schedule writing time and stick to it

Seems obvious, but you can’t tackle a blank page if you never take time to write. And yes, I’m talking taking time again. We can’t invent time, we have to choose the things we do in the time we have.

It might mean saying no to other things.

It might mean rethinking your idea/ideals about how and when you can write.

What do you really need to write? Think about how much time? What kind of space? What resources and research?

These factors change depending on what you are writing. While it’s good to know what works for you as a writing routine, sometimes it’s good to change things up…

Fill in the blanks

The main thing is you start to write. Something.

Some people write the title, play around with fonts. These might be viewed as procrastination techniques (a post on this coming soon), but they are also making you stay on the page.

It is no longer blank.

You might also want to do some free-writing. This is not going to be the final piece, but it is the warm up.

Free-writing gets your ideas out there. We think better as we write.

Skeleton structure (boom tish)

Ok, enough of the Halloween imagery…

Seriously – start with some big level outlining. That could be as simple as Abstract, Intro, Section 1…

Page is filling up.

There is no ‘writing’ as content/analysis there yet, but you are still on the page. You are putting one foot/word in front of the other.

In no particular order?

The beauty of sectioning out a blank page is that you can start to write where you are ‘at’. You may have the headlines of your abstract – cool.

You might however, have finished some analysis of data and want to write about a core theme. Do it.

You can move things around – only if they are there.

A living document

You can’t write what you want to be read in one go.

In other words, the first draft is the first draft.

We all have heard of the crappy/rough/shitty first draft. So, learn to embrace that.

First time around – the writing is for your eyes only.

Once you have edited it a couple of times – GET FEEDBACK!! (another post on fear of the reader coming).

Step away

Crucial – get distance & time between your writing and re-writing. Ditto editing and restructuring and proofreading.

If the Pomodoro technique is for you – use that. Sit and write in 20 minute blocks.

If working in longer stretches is for you, fine. Just remember to factor in breaks.

Words can be re-written.

The beauty – and for some pain – of writing is that is can, and will, be changed.

Writing is a craft. It takes work. The more we do, the better we become.

If you want to write, if you need to write, then start with a simple sentence.

‘Today, I am going to write….’

Keep going and be kind to yourself

Writing will take longer than you think.

Your writing is better than you think.

Writing is a powerful tool.

You have got this.

When coaching might be for you

Over the past month, I’ve added coaching to my provision.

I know! I hear you say – ‘isn’t everyone a coach these days?’

Coaching gets a bit of a bad wrap.

It is understandable as in the UK there is no regulation; so anyone can set up as ‘a coach’ and claim to help clients sort out their lives.

Indeed, you could hire a life coach, a wellness coach, a career coach, a self-development coach. The list is seemingly endless and in some cases – the offering vague.

It may well not be worth the price tag. If something seems to good to be true, it usually is.

Yet, coaching is a growth industry – including amongst younger people.

Coaching is no longer the preserve of the privileged or bored.

It helped me.

So, what is coaching?

Coaching is a process that helps you to identify what it is that you really want – in life, in your career – and helps you to establish clear goals to get the change/s you want in motion.

The key to good coaching is enabling changes that are grounded in the client’s real life – the client identifies the process of change too. It has to help you see what is realistic and feasible for you.

Coaching is NOT therapy or counselling.

This is where you must be clear on what support you need.

I only booked my first coaching session once I had been to my GP and addressed my mental health concerns and began treatment to better manage my chronic pain and fatigue.

If you are looking for emotional support, or require mental health support, then it is vital to address that with the right professionals first.

How does coaching work?

I booked my first session with a career and writing coach because I wanted to speak to a neutral person with relevant experience and expertise.

It was important to find a coach who would understand my working environment and why I wanted to make changes.

For me, a coach offers not only someone who can listen, but who provides the space to work through the difficult questions that deciding to change provokes.

I genuinely do not think I would have faced up to what I really wanted in a concrete way without that support.

What are the benefits?

The main reason I hired a coach was to have a space where I did not feel I had to be guarded about my real ‘dreams’ – as I would have been with a workplace mentor or family member or friend.

I was not shut down or told ‘you can’t do that’.

Taking the step to work with a coach was giving myself the permission and accountability that I needed in order to make change happen.

In working with a coach, I was also able to see what a realistic time frame for change would be – and begin to plan for the new. Then I began to put that plan into action.

There was no bullshit either. I was not sold a dream.

Coaching helped me because it allowed me to vocalise and plan my change.

It validated the process of change to myself.

It made me question all the things that had stopped me before.

Think it might be for you? Do your research first

Before you spend any money – find a coach that suits your needs.

Spend some time thinking about what areas of your work/life you want to change – and why?

What do you want from a coaching interaction?

Are your expectations about that realistic?

Get a trial consultation or indication of the coaching approach before you commit.

Why I began coaching as part of my business

I began coaching in the areas of academic writing and career change planning.

Why? Firstly, because people asked me!

No, really!

As I began to consider the possibility, I realised that there is a gap in space and non-judgemental listening for many people working in academia. It may be that you want to find ways to work ‘better’, or that you are thinking about whether there might be another career path out there.

These are not easy conversations to have within the current academic workplace or job market.

It is too competitive and feels to risky to disclose plans and dreams for many.

Who does she think she is? Why do I think I can coach?

Having been an in-post, full-time academic for over a decade, I understand the workplace and pressures.

As a published author and teacher, I can advise and cheerlead and help you see your writing for what it is – good. Or a crappy draft, that can be changed! It’s fine.

I have been a PhD supervisor , and although not a coach, there are many commonalities in the mentoring and goal setting support skillset.

As well as actually coaching, I’m a keen advocate of upskilling; I’ve been doing my own homework on courses in the areas of coaching, goal setting. journalling and mindset.

In my first few months, I have worked with people on a range of issues. These include work on reconnecting to the PhD; planning a career change; and working on writing development and diversification of outputs.

You can read a recent testimonial about my coaching here.

I also offer coaching for those managing chronic illness and parenting.

I’m not a counsellor or therapist or a parallel supervisor.

You can read my Coaching Manifesto here.

Think you could work with me?

I am currently opening my list for December 2019. I have limited spaces between 02-20 December.

If this sounds of interest, please do contact me at hello@vikturbine.com and ask questions!

I also offer a FREE initial consultation via Skype with an accompanying initial goal-setting workbook.

It is vital to assess whether you can work with a coach – and vice versa – before any agreement or payment is made!

You can find coaching option descriptions and purchase options by clicking the links below.

My Coaching Manifesto

As a coach, my role is to help you to identify, set and achieve your goals.

I will work with you through one-to-one online consultations and provide you with tailored feedback and workbooks.

Every coaching session is confidential.

I will keep you on track and accountable should you choose to do the work.

I will not tell you what you should do.

I won’t try to counsel or advise you – that is not my role.

I don’t set your goals – only you can do that.

You will identify your strengths and work from and to them.

We will celebrate the small wins along the way.

Change is hard – I’m here to support you putting your changes into action.

Please email me at hello@vikturbine.com for more information.

Tackling the overwork reflex: learning what is healthy for you

Do you have an overwork reflex?

I’m guessing the majority of you reading this nodded. 

We have a problematic culture of overwork. Where overwork is performed as ‘busy-work’, presenteeism and long office hours.

Where we remain wedded to a 9-5 culture (and the rest) that no longer fits our lives, needs, and creativity. 

A sector wide issue: the overwork reflex in academia

Academia as a sector has a major problem with overwork. Overwork is implicit in the engrained patterns of performing the academic – still read as the unencumbered (read white, middle class, able-bodied, care-free, male).  

More problematic – the fact that overwork is explicitly validated and valourised. We see this in the ‘inevitability’ of overwork that is written through ‘advice’ given to those starting their careers. It is given in the ‘warnings’ doled out to women to not ‘appear’ or become pregnant.

It is in the performance indicators – the more you produce, the more money you win, the more you are a specific kind of internationally mobile – the better.  Doing all of these things, requires working a lot of hours. 

Overwork doesn’t work

Yet, we know that working long hours and multi-tasking, is ineffective. It is problematic for our health and for productivity.

Yet it persists and we become complicit in it.

I left the academy this year – in part because I could no longer do this overwork. 

I burnout. I’ve written about this before.

I’ll keep writing about it because it resonates so loudly with people reading this blog and engaging with me on social media. 

Burnout in the workplace is now recognised by The World Health Organisation. 

The negative effects of the demand for over-work are not problems that will go away.

Managing a different version of overwork: the freelance ‘hustle’

Much is said about how freelancing is another space of overwork and continual ‘hustle’. The emphasis is on being continually on and you being your brand. The work/life distinction further blurred. 

Articles abound about freelance burnout. 

Had I jumped from a frying pan and into the fire?

My experience has been no. Not entirely.

Working hard, but not more: trying to beat the overwork reflex

In the past 4 months – I’m excluding the school summer holidays – I’ve established and grown a business from scratch (more coming on how I did this in another blog post). 

I have worked incredibly hard on an incredibly steep learning curve in a short period of time. I learned how to set up my website, got more social media marketing savvy, and learned a range of new skills. I’m still doing a lot of self-development and training (and loving it!)

And still – there are those little demon voices telling me when I rest – when I need to because of my chronic illness – I am being lazy. That I am not working enough. That I need to ‘make up’ the hours. That I am letting people down by not continually putting out content. That I am risking growth to my business by not being on the marketing all of the time. 

I will share some of my strategies for freelancing with a chronic illness in another post, here I want to discuss how I am actively trying to retrain my overwork reflex!

Pause and reflect: keep overwork in check

It is inevitable that I find it hard to not let that overwork reflex kick in- I worked in an organisational culture and sector where that was the name of the game for over 10 years. 

We live in a world saturated by our own show reels and highlights. It is very had to not fall prey to comparisonitis on occasion. 

Competitiveness in an ever crowded space is the work world we are in – we have to put the work in to be heard – and to grow – for our work to be a viable source of income for living. 

Yet, you are you. Your skills and abilities and perspectives are yours. 

They have to be tailored to, and funnelled through, work objectives or targets – or for the self-employed – our goals and clients. Yet, we cannot do our work well if we are not clear in why we are doing what we do – what is it all for?

Overwork makes us lack clarity. It means we continually feel on the backfoot because our mind is racing with all of the unfinished projects that we know will not get finished. We are thinking of all the things we want to do – the new and shiny and exciting – that we don’t have time for. We resent others for taking leisure time, or working ‘less’. 

This is corrosive – for ourselves and for working cultures. It breeds toxicity. 

Beat the overwork reflex: from reactive to proactive planning

I read this blog post about working a 4 hour day. It really made me think about how much of our overwork reflex is about signalling our worth to others – to get that external validation for ourselves.

It made me think again about what I want my work to be and do for me. I want to achieve my goals, but I don’t want to be lost in chasing them.

I’ve spoken on social media and in my online writing course about the 12 week planning routine I’ve adopted from Josephine Brooks. 

This has allowed me to gain clarity and focus on doing ‘less’ in the shorter term – in terms of focussing on one or two goals and completing them – in order to do more over the longer term. 

So far, this is working for me. I set 3 goals in August and my current 12 week plan is due for review at the end of this month. I’ve met all of my goals already – and allowed for flexibility and to think about new projects.

We can’t all be our own boss, but we can have much more control over our working patterns than we think. 

So, pause and reflect and really think about all of the work you are doing, all of the time.

Do you really need to do it all – at once? 

Could you work better, not more? 

I would love to hear what you think and continue the conversation over on Twitter or Instagram. 

You can also email me hello@vikturbine to discuss coaching. 

And for your earworm/desk disco pleasure – remember…

“And every little thing the reflex does

Leaves you answered with a question mark”

Duran Duran, 1984.

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Ditching guilt: learning how to be kind to yourself

I know a lot about feeling guilty.

It is probably how I have felt for much of my life.

All of the guilt

Guilt at being a child witnessing violence.

Guilt at being a working class girl leaving home and ‘escaping’.

Guilt at being privileged in the academy – in terms of whiteness, passing as able-bodied (for a while), permanence of post.

Guilt at being a mum in a paid job.

Guilt at being in a paid job and being an absent mum.

Guilt at not being able to heal myself as my endometriosis progressively worsened and I was not able to continue over-working and masking.

Guilt at taking sick leave and having sick leave to take.

Guilt in being able to leave the academy when so many want in.

Why all the guilt?

Quite some list. And all of it unnecessary.

To the ‘rational’ mind, nonsense.

If another person told me this was how they felt, I’d have told them they were being harsh on themselves.

Yet, this is a refrain I hear time and time again – particularly in the context of academia and women attempting to ‘navigate it’.

We know why we feel guilt

We know women and girls are socialised to be the helpmeets of others. We know that women and girls experience discrimination as a routine part of their daily working lives. We know that women and girls are gaslight and dismissed in their success.

Guilt comes at women and girls from all directions and it collides with our own internalised perfectionisms and fears.

It is the patriarchy, innit.

In academia and other workplaces where competition is manufactured and valorised, guilt becomes a common trope in whispered conversations. No one feels they are doing enough. No one feels ‘fast’ enough. No one feels on top of their work. Everyone has guilt about something. It is worth revisiting Ros Gill’s 2009 piece on the ‘hidden injuries’ of neoliberal academia if you have not recently.

It is exhausting bullshit.

Ditching the guilt

I’m now almost 6 months out of the academy – in terms of my role as a full time, permanent Lecturer. Alongside setting up my own business, I’ve been having a long think about why all the guilt.

I’ve been working hard on letting it go.

I am a recovering guilt-a-holic.

I am unlearning the self-blame and internalisation of toxic messages of ‘value’ only in terms of ‘outputs’.

While a lot of my coming to terms with guilt is a result of leaving academia and the pressures of that working environment behind, I think there are some learning curves that may be of use to those still wanting in, trying to stay in, or swithering about getting out.

Is it really guilt?

In my own reflections, I’ve asked myself if what I am feeling really is guilt.

If we understand guilt as the feeling that comes from a fear that we have done something to cause harm, or failed to do something, then we can start to unravel it.

We might feel guilt when overworked because we can’t meet the conflicting demands on our time. It is inevitable that we are going to let someone down. But are we really letting them down? Or, have we become so acclimatised to our always on culture that trying to draw boundaries – reasonable and sensible ones – makes our actions feel illegitimate?

Do we genuinely feel guilt, or are we being ‘shamed’ ? I think this might be closer to it. That our work cultures – particularly in academia – thrive on inculcating feelings of failure; indeed setting us up to feel like we are never enough.

In a wider neoliberal context where we are always responsible for our ‘failing’, guilt becomes the default.

We could go even further. What is happening to some of us, who are working hard all of the time, yet are still feeling guilty?

Are we being gaslit? Whereby our organisational cultures are abusive. Cultures and structures making us question our own reality and experiences. We have, I think, moved beyond problems of shifting goalposts to something more insidious. This article in Grazia on ‘corporate gaslighting’ resonated a lot with me. It is something I want to explore further in a dedicated blog, or podcast. Let me know what you think.

It is better to feel, even the negative emotions, than to burn out

I’m not a counsellor. I’m not a health professional.

I’m a person who felt plagued and latterly in my career, paralysed by guilt.

I burnout.


Burning out can mean continuing on without feeling much. Without being able to recognise that you are beyond tipping point. Until you are made to stop.

In my case, I was stopped – physically and mentally.

Seeking help from my GP was the best decision I’ve made.

I even felt guilty about doing that. I had such a great life. I had zero reason to be unhappy.

And yet, I was not only deeply unhappy, I was seriously unwell.

So, if any of this resonates with you, try to ditch the guilt and if you need to, seek the right help.

It is not always possible, or desirable, to change your working context. Yet, having some time to think about what it is that is making you feel guilt, or shame, or anger – can make it easier to manage.

Written with love.

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