One of my current clients is working on a dissertation about academically successful black women, and what it takes for them to survive and succeed in academia. Among the issues she raises is the isolation that black women feel — the sense that they are out there, alone, struggling against internalized critics spouting racist denigrations of their character and ability, and having those voices reified in comments made by cohorts, faculty and administrators, albeit often in unconscious ways.
These internalized critics can have a profound impact on the student’s ability to write. Much of good writing boils down to confidence in yourself. Without that confidence, getting the words out is extraordinarily painful. And terrifying. That critic within — the combined voices of all those committee members clearly horrified with your “obvious” shortcomings — stands over you as your worst enemy, ax in hand, ready to cut your head off if you don’t produce, and the words just won’t come. Or when they do, they are squeezed into incoherent, turgid, upside-down, inside-out sentences and paragraphs — making it appear as if you are so lacking in intelligence and skill that faculty wonder (behind your back) how you ever got admitted to graduate school in the first place. They may privately shrug their shoulders and believe you made it in solely because of affirmative action, unable to say what they really think because, well, there are all those pesky lawsuits just waiting to be filed, and they fear being named.
And then there are those who want to help, but don’t have the slightest clue how.
Beneath it all, however, there is this: without an advocate, without someone believing in you, without someone recognizing the psychology behind your frozen writing, you are at sea in a world that doesn’t understand, that cannot see the value of your contribution. You are caught up in a sticky, unrelenting web, and every effort to find your way out just binds you tighter.
There is a way out. I am more than an editor: I am a coach. I am that advocate. With me, your success is my success. I feel deep satisfaction as you work your way around and over and hurdles placed in front of you. I “walk the walk” right along side you, cheering you on, helping you find your way, filling in the missing pieces of the puzzle that somehow never made it into your preparation for academic work. And when the breakthroughs happen, I’m jumping for joy.