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Using a Ventilation File to help break free from writers’ block

I used to hate on the Ventilation File and this blog post is about how I changed my mind about it. The Ventilation File is a document (or a folder with a series of documents) where you go vent (hence the name) and dump your frustrations regarding your writing rut (if you are in one).

But then I figured that:

(1) writing up my frustrations would give me again the tactile sensations that make me enjoy writing (typing in a computer).

(2) I can use this text for a blog post that others can read on my site whenever they feel equally frustrated as I was.

I DO feel better, having gotten the frustration out of my chest, and can now focus on ACTUALLY WRITING.

Hopefully the Ventilation File strategy to getting out of a writing rut will work for you too.

For those interested, here is the text of my Ventilation File this morning (April 1st, 2022)

I’m frustrated with my lack of time to write

Writing has rarely been this hard for me, and it’s April 1st, 2022. It’s not that I don’t love to write (I do). It’s not that I am not good at writing (I am). It’s not that I don’t know what I want to write (I do know). It’s the overwhelming and sheer number of responsibilities (and meetings!) that I’ve had to attend over the past few weeks, the many things I’ve had to do for others (letters, committees, care work, etc.) and the reduced amount of time I have had to actually sit down, think and write. I don’t feel in a rut, and I do feel that I will get out of these many meetings because I just finished a week where I had 27 hours of meetings scheduled (out of 40!). But I really need to get back to reality and to doing the thing I love the most. I do enjoy teaching, and service, but I really need to be able to write more. Even my very early morning writing time is compromised because I’ve used it to catch up on stuff that I had to prepare and send. This is incredibly frustrating.

And for the very first time in my writing career I am using a Ventilation File. This approach was pioneered by David Sternberg in his book “How to Survive and Complete a Doctoral Dissertation”, and taken up by (and popularized!) by the incomparable Joli Jensen in her book “Write No Matter What”.

I will confess that for decades, I was skeptical of the Ventilation File. Why on Earth would I need to write down my thoughts on why I was feeling in a writing rut? This seemed like a useless strategy. Then I read Sternberg. Then I read Jensen. And today, April 1st, I just needed to get this out of my chest. So I have basically written about 315 words worth of a rant that will go on to my Ventilation File.
It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

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