I tend to laugh at my students who tell me that they are studying computers because they "hate to write and want to avoid it". Ha! I just realized that 90% of my tasks this month involve writing. So much for that theory.....
But I digress. This morning, I'm working on my third-year review prospectus. That all-important document in which I discuss myself, my teaching, my research, my service, my plans for the future. Where I try to strike that impossible balance between trumpeting my accomplishments ("I am so valuable to this institution!") and being humble ("but I'm not a braggart! I'm collegial!"). Where I basically convince my institution that it cannot afford to get rid of me without specifically saying so. Where I outline the many ways in which I need to improve without making it seem like I'm an impossible mess. Where I anticipate and discuss all of the feedback that others--students, colleagues--will give about me at other points in the process. All in 8-10 single-spaced pages.
Needless to say, I have been shamelessly putting this off.
It is tricky to write about yourself under the best of circumstances, when you're writing for a third-party audience. It is even trickier when trying to balance all of the above constraints. I have a lot of ideas. I know, essentially, what I want to say, the points I want to address and highlight. It's the voice that's hanging me up: how do I best say these things, without sounding arrogant or incompetent?
The strategy I've been using so far, yesterday and today when I've done the bulk of the work on this, is to just write. Just get things down on paper. Concentrate on the content and not on the voice; the voice can be tweaked later. I wrote up an outline a few weeks ago, which has been really valuable in keeping me on task--when I start to stress too much about voice, I refer to the outline to put my focus back on content, on points, on themes. It's working. But it's still hard.
I've begged my colleagues for their review prospectuses. I read through all of them a few weeks ago, to get a feel for how people in other fields (and my field) addressed various points. I'll probably read through them again once my draft is in better shape, to get at more specific nuances. I've discussed my prospectus conceptually with a mentor; she is going to read it once I get a draft together. I will probably ask another mentor to look it over too. So I'm doing all the "right" things. But damn, this is still hard!
I think the reason this is so hard is that, in a sense, the stakes are so high. I know that a lot of weight is put on this part of my packet. It is one of the few places where my voice, and my voice alone, is allowed. It is my opportunity to convince my colleagues of my worth, in a sense. And so it feels like it almost has to be perfect. Now, I know that's a completely ridiculous statement, but that "perfection" thing lingers in the back of my mind. What if it's not what the reader expects? What if I use the wrong voice? What if the reader doesn't get it? How much could this affect my case, negatively or positively?
I try not to think of these things. I try to just get my thoughts on paper, to make sure all my ideas are represented, and to find a voice that works--for me, at least. Hopefully, this will all be enough. Hopefully, my genuine self will come through in this, and the committee will see this and, above all, respect it.
Is that too much to ask?