I follow the work of Pat Thomson (http://patthomson.wordpress.com) reading her blog and following her tweets. Each morning I check in on her ‘This academic life’ page to check out the visual image and description of what she has been up to the day before –finding this a fascinating way of looking at what academic work entails. On my twitter feed one day a link from Pat came up to a book by Patricia Goodson (2013, Sage Publications) ‘Becoming an academic writer’. I was intrigued about what this book might be like and so ordered it and was excited when it arrived just before I was due to fly to Canberra to see the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition – it would be perfect plane reading material.
Goodson writes that she often asks students and staff members what they do for a living, arguing that she wants them to remember that they are writers – ‘They write for a living. Every dimension of their future success as academics – grades, promotions, presentations to professional groups, funding for research projects – will depend on how well (and yes, how much) they write’ (p. 16). She says that remembering you are a professional writer is the one thing she wants people to take away with them- and to be honest it’s something I hadn’t really thought about in much depth before. I see writing as a key part of my job, I love to write, but I’d never actually thought of referring to myself as a professional writer – rather I see myself as having so many dimensions to the work I do, with writer perhaps being one that is sometimes pushed to the edges.
So, I thought I’d keep going with Goodson’s book and follow the exercises she describes. I think it will be an interesting experiment to see what happens to my writing –how might it change and develop over the time I spend with Goodson’s book?
Today I started with her exercises and began with some of the things that get me writing which include: a space for writing both mental and physical; a passion for the topic; an ability to switch off from distractions; the ability to be in ‘flow’; nothing practical or pressing nagging in my brain and needing to be done and being immersed in the topic and the writing so that it doesn’t even feel like work.
As I write this I have all these romantic Virginia Woolf style notions of a room of one’s own in my mind. One of my favourite places to write is in my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house where the sea breeze drifts in through the window and the trees cast shadows across the desk. For me it becomes an idealised picture of the solitary writer caught in a wave of inspiration locking out all else and generating copious amounts of material, which are characterised by a genius of ideas and expression. Maybe all these notions of writing and of myself as a writer neglect the fact that writing and academic writing are work, and sometimes, hard work. There will be moments of inspiration, moments when words flow from my fingers and brain, but there will be other moments when it is hard work and requires me to plug away, rephrasing a sentence, searching for a word, grappling with an idea. Sometimes these moments will not be the easy, enjoyable moments I have in the idealized image that appear when I think about writing, but maybe from them there will emerge possibility, understanding and growth.
I wonder if the moments that seem mechanical and pedestrian can transform into moments of flow? As I write this I sit in an airport terminal waiting for a flight home. Around me I can hear music streaming through the sound system, there are children crying and conversations occurring in earnest. Yet here I sit absorbed in tapping out words on my iPad.
Starting with the first question, I begin to write, to explore my processes, my ideas, my style, and maybe, as Richardson says, to write myself into understanding.
Let’s see where Goodson takes me on this writing journey – I’m interested to see what I think of the book and of my writing by the time I finish…