On writing

The wonderful Kate Bowles wrote a blog post last week that has had that marvellous ripple effect both twitter and blogs (see here and here).  Kate express so many of the frustrations around writing that many academics face. Academics have to write all the time, but what we have to write, is often not what we want to write.  This is particularly true the further up “the chain” you get.  The post is also a writing call to arms where Kate openly shares her plans to reinvigorate her writing over her next academic semester.

I’ve been trying to write a response to Kate’s post and the responses it generated, for about a week now. As so often, life, the rain, and a myriad of other excuses meant that it hasn’t happened until today. That time delay has made me reflect a bit more on my own writing process. So this post is going to be quite different to the post I had in my head last week. The pithy little phrases that were running around my head have now disappeared. What follows is about my writing process, where and how I get and loose my motivations to write.

Up until a few months ago, when I was in full time employment, I had to carve out my writing time. I didn’t have a budget line for writing as Maren alludes to. In fact writing my blog during official office hours was probably my own little bit of rebellion in that I knew it was a really important part of my own CPD even if it wasn’t formally recognised. And when I say “my writing” I mean the writing I wanted to do – primarily my blog and most of last year a book. I was doing a lot of other writing, but it was mainly the kind to bullshit writing Kate described in her post.

I have no illusions about my writing. I’m not a great writer by any stretch of the imagination. Unlike Martin, I’ve never had literary ambitions, but over the past 14 years I have been writing consistently on my blog. The freedom of writing in a blog has given me has, on reflection, not only made me a better writer but it has been an integral and central part of my evolving sense of agency.  

I don’t really like formal academic writing, I can do it, but I find it quite stressful and so not that enjoyable. It’s a different kind of “have to write” from writing bs strategy documents, with its own set of values and recognition. Blogging gives me a sense of freedom from those stresses.  

One of the great things about blogging is its immediacy. Sometimes the urgency to write something is just  there and something just needs to get out. With a blog you can do that. No need to use a formal academic writing style, no waiting for reviewers comments, no waiting for editorial decisions you just write and hit publish.

Over the past couple of years I have struggled to write when the world seems to hitting new levels of craziness everyday.  I felt I was loosing that sense of urgency, that sense of having anything of value to say. Weekly posts became bi-weekly sometimes monthly, the list of draft posts became longer.

But the craving (habits take a long time to die) was , and still is there. That feeling of needing to write, to sort out my thoughts, to maybe get a comment from someone like Kate (who always sees more in my writing that I can) was always at the back of my mind. 

Now I’m working part time, I don’t have the stresses of institutionally focused writing – hurrah. But I do still relate to the need to use certain language. I still have to write reports, proposals etc so I need to “talk the business talk”.  But that is more balanced now as  I am making more time to express myself in different ways. 

My blog is still  a really important part of my professional identity, so I want to keep the writing habit going.  My notions of work time are changing, my practice is changing. I am one step removed from everyday institutional practice, from the all consuming institutional ‘have to write” scenarios.  In one way that should, and does make writing slightly easier. On the other hand my sense of focus is different so I am having to adapt to that.  But that’s part of the joy of writing, finding a way to do just that.  

As any writer knows, the biggest part of writing is actually reading. Reading what others are doing, what, why and how they are sharing is invaluable.

As Kate’s original post and her recent post this week, showed, reading other peoples writing can so often provide that sense of personal urgency (and agency) to write something yourself.  In these troubled times, I hold dear the acts of kindness other peoples writing provide. Pieces like this article on a pedagogy of kindness by Catherine Denial which I spotted last week.

Sharing these written acts of kindness, commenting if you can (also one way to do a little bit of writing) really does help to keep us all a little bit saner in this crazy, crazy world.  

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