What's Holding You Back?

October 11, 2010

Now that we’re almost halfway into the fall semester, it’s an ideal time to stop and evaluate your progress. I encourage you to do so this week by gently asking yourself several important questions: How is my semester going so far? How much writing have I completed? Have I developed a daily writing routine? How am I progressing towards my semester goals? and How do I feel about my answers to the previous questions? Let me be clear, this is NOT an invitation to beat yourself up! It's simply an opportunity to observe what IS working for you and what is NOT working for you, and to make adjustments.

I hope that you answered enthusiastically that your projects are perfectly on track and you feel exhilarated by all your success! But if you are like me, you've probably had some successes and some disappointments this semester. Whenever I find myself unsatisfied with my progress, I pause to ask: what's holding me back? Because once I can pinpoint what the problems are, I can make targeted adjustments that will help me to get back on track.

In my work with new faculty members, I find that most people's productivity is blocked by some combination of what Julie Morgenstern describes as technical errors, external realities, and psychological obstacles. I've adapted these for academic writers and describe each of them below. Of course, the answer to what's holding YOU back is something that only you can answer, but personally, I find this checklist an extremely helpful and efficient framework to quickly identify the areas where I need to make adjustments for the remainder of the semester.


The following technical errors occur when you are missing some relevant skill or technique and they are the easiest to fix!

  • You haven't set aside a specific time for your research and writing.
  • You've set aside the wrong time to write.
  • You have no idea how much time a particular research or writing task takes and/or you consistently underestimate the time required to complete tasks.
  • You're the wrong person for the job (you think you have to do it all and that asking for help is a sign of weakness or incompetence).
  • The tasks you have set out are too complex (items like "finish my book" are on your to-do list).
  • You can't remember what you have to do because you don't believe in lists or calendars.
  • Your space is disorganized so you can never find what you need when you need it.
  • You have not created a support and accountability mechanism for your writing,


These are situations or environmental factors that are beyond your control. As a result, they require lots of patience, self-understanding, and conscious planning to maneuver around in order to keep your writing on track.

  • A health problem limits your energy.
  • The physical materials you rely on to work and/or live are in transition (you’re in the midst of moving offices, moving from one institution to another, or you’ve moved into a new home).
  • You are in a life transition (new baby, divorce, unexpected elder care).
  • You are externally forced to work in an interruption-rich environment.
  • You have a disorganized person in your life who hinders your ability to write (a chaotically driven spouse/partner, co-author, colleague, research team, etc...).
  • You work in an emotionally toxic environment,


These are the deeper issues that underlie our resistance to writing. For now, let's just try to become aware which (if any) may be keeping us from writing every day

  • Unrealistically high expectations.
  • Feeling dis-empowered around research, writing, and/or your intellectual abilities.
  • Fear of downtime (during which you may have to deal with difficult issues like what you really want to do with your life and/or your relational problems).
  • Needing to be a caretaker at the expense of your own needs (your helping others is out of balance so you feel resentful, unappreciated and overwhelmed).
  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of success.
  • Fear of disrupting the status quo and/or speaking the truth to power.
  • Fear of completion.
  • A hyperactive inner critic
  • Unclear goals and priorities.
  • Extreme conflict avoidance (you spend a lot of time angry, worrying about unresolved conflicts, and feeling too emotionally drained to engage in your intellectual work).

I realize this is a long list! But I hope it helps you to identify what's holding you back if you are not satisfied with your progress this semester. Learning to observe and name your resistance to writing is an important step forward in using your creativity to move through and around it. This type of continual self-evaluation, coupled with incremental behavioral adjustments can make a big difference between hoping to write and actually writing each and every day.

The Weekly Challenge

This week, I want to challenge you to do the following:

  • Take 30 minutes to observe, evaluate, and reflect on your progress this semester. Try using your Semester Plan to gauge your progress.
  • Name and celebrate the successes that you have experienced!
  • Consider the list of technical errors, external realities, and psychological obstacles and ask yourself: what is holding me back?
  • Pick one area that is under your control and generate potential solutions. For example, if you haven’t set aside a specific time for writing, block out time in your calendar every day this week and show up.
  • Recommit yourself to 30-60 minutes each day for your writing.
  • If you haven't written your semester plan, it's not too late! I guarantee that going through this process will help you to get very real about what you can (and cannot) do in the next eight weeks.

I hope this week brings you the courage to patiently assess your progress, the joy of celebrating your successes, and the creativity to devise solutions that make sense for YOU!

Peace & Productivity,
Kerry Ann Rockquemore

Search for Jobs


  • Viewed
  • Commented
  • Past:
  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year
Back to Top