First Rehearse, then Perform

„Rehearsals are where you can screw up and feel safe to experiment.“
Bruce Dickinson, What Does This Button Do? An Autobiography, 2017

Imagine standing on a stage with thousands of people in front of you. Expectations are high, since your fans have spent a lot of money and time to see you perform. You, however, have a problem: You picked up the guitar for the first time yesterday; you’re scared you could disappoint your fans.

This is of course an unrealistic example – how could people know about you and come to a show, if you hadn’t played guitar before yesterday? Nevertheless, that is what many academic writers struggle with in their heads. They sit down to write, thinking that they need to perform the best they can, even though they might not have the required training yet. They fail to see that they need to rehearse first and perform later.

While rehearsing, you are allowed to do different things: play with ideas, pick your brain for new ideas with creative writing methods and write a (shitty) first draft, which you can revise several times. You can ask a colleague for feedback on the first draft in order to see what might need improving. You can rehearse for some time, until it’s time to polish and finish your text. Then, by submitting it to your supervisor, a journal editor or your publisher, you can get on stage for the first time. Submitting it, however, doesn’t mean that you „perform“ your text already in front of a big crowd. Maybe it’s a tech rehearsal (with all the lights on, but without an audience), after which you get a review. Now you have the chance to revise and improve your text once more, before you submit your text for good. As soon as it’s accepted or published, you can perform your ideas in front people (you won’t hear the cheering, though).

So, in the words of Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, screw up and experiment first, before you go on stage to perform. That’s what musicians do; that’s what writers do.

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