Recapturing my writing mojo, or how I got my groove back



I’ve never seen the film, ‘How Stella got her groove back’ but the name of it sounded apt for today’s post. Today I took to bed, like a heroine from a novel set in the1800s as I needed some time to recline in bed with a cup of tea and some books. At the end of a couple of long weeks, I felt like I couldn’t still my mind and was suffering from a type of hypervigilance where I had to be alert for every possible eventuation.

The internet exacerbates this hypervigilance, and FOMO (fear of missing out) pervades my working life. Twitter, as a professional learning network, is a pot of gold at the end of an electronic rainbow for academics and teachers. There is always someone sharing something – links to research, examples of practice, viewpoints, ideas, arguments – they arrive from all four corners of the globe every minute of every day. My brain becomes like a still from a Harry Potter film, owls delivering news that piles up, and up, and up, until every corner and recess is crammed with information. Sorting through the information, categorizing it, filing it in the right cabinet where I might retrieve it later on when I need it, is exhausting. Sometimes, like today, I need to re-set the system, shut down the flow of information and allow the system to back up and reboot.

This rebooting is necessary for recapturing my writing mojo. I’ve been snatching minutes each day to scrawl down ideas that then don’t get turned into entire arguments or pieces. They remain, inked across notebooks, typed into digital notes and even worse, stuffed in the dark, quiet corners of my brain, waiting to be released. My diary is bulging with pieces of paper pasted in, reflections, critiques and comments kept for later analysis and transformation.

So today, I wanted to refocus, to reclaim a space and a time for writing. An encounter with a family friend last night reminded me that to write, is for me, as important as breathing. Commenting on my personal blog entries, she said, ‘You need to write’.  How correct she is. I do need to write, whether personal blogs, this blog or academic writing. I need to write every day and on the days when classes, meetings, and life stop me from doing this I begin to feel jangled and disconnected.

I climbed into bed with Pat Goodson and with Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler and began to read while sipping steaming black tea and listening to my study day playlist on my iPad. Soon enough, I found myself slipping back into my writer’s mind and thinking of what writing piece I would begin with. Reading Thomson and Kamler I decided that it was time to rewrite a paper in three moves.

Clearly I’m not planning on rewriting the entire paper in in three moves as if it only took three moves my rewriting processes would be a lot less painful and a lot faster. But as I flicked through Thomson and Kamler’s ‘Writing for peer reviewed journals’ and reading their ideas about the creation of the tiny text (the abstract), I started to think of how my rewriting might take shape. It was when I got to the idea of a tiny text in three moves that I begin to sit up, take notice and start scrawling ideas on my iPad. The three move abstract is, according to Thomson and Kamler, appropriate for papers with a more theoretical bent, and I’m thinking of the paper M and I had rejected a couple of months back. The three moves tiny text might give the paper the structure and focus I thought it was lacking. By using the concepts of locate, problematise and argue, we can focus our ideas on the shortcomings we see, the problem of the elephant in the room. Thomson and Kamler argue that the problematise stage of the tiny text offers the opportunity to give ‘a bird’s eye view of a trend in an entire field’ (p. 65), with the argue section providing the scope to outline the practical implications. Re-reading the three moves section again, I’m revisiting the ideas from our paper, sketching and stitching them in a visual mind map before I sit down to do it on hard copy. There have been some articles in the news lately that have made me think our rejected paper matters, and now with the three moves tiny text squirreled away in my brain, I may have a beginning point to give the paper the structure and shape it needs to fly.

Meanwhile back at the farm….

Meanwhile, I’m thinking of a whole different idea thanks to Goodson. In her book, I read the activity about copying a text with interest. She traces the idea that writing might be developed through imitation, and that through carefully copying passages of the writers we admire and by going through the process of copying word for word what the writer produced, we can begin to learn about the way ideas and words are structured to convey a message. Goodson is not recommending blind, thoughtless copying as a way to improve writing quality, highlighting the reflective questions that need to accompany this type of copying work. Through examination of these questions, we might come to see the way words, ideas and meaning come together in successful pieces of writing. I’m both intrigued and unsure about this concept. I’m inking it in my calendar as a writing activity for later in the week and I’m going to experiment with it, to see what thoughts I have after actually undertaking the process.

One of the things that happens to me as I read and think about writing or anything to do with work, is that I cannot divorce my teaching from my writing and from my own personal learning. So as I read about copying, part of me is most interested in this as a teaching strategy. I’m starting to think less about my academic writing and more about my teaching, particularly my teaching at school. Goodson mentions ESL writers in her discussion of copying and that gets me thinking about the ways in which we learn another language. I’m frequently encouraging my French students in Year 7 and 8 to read in French, be it in magazines or short story books I picked up overseas. I get them to write, giving them a scaffold for how to construct pieces, but now I’m wondering what direct copying might do as a strategy to improve their language learning. I think that one of the ways it might help them is by getting them more familiar with the structure of sentences in French, in particular, the organization of subject, verb, object and adjectives, something students can often find confusing. It might also help them develop a bank of commonly used expressions in speaking and writing, something that we have all been focusing on. I’m looking at my planner and building in some brief copying practice as a trial over the next couple of weeks. I’m going to think about how best to gauge the impact of this as a learning and teaching strategy, and so will put together some pre and post reflective questions that students can fill out, along with a modified version of the questions Goodson recommends that are tailored to the types of things I want the students to be identifying and gaining from this kind of copying practice.

Now that the ideas have been captured and a plan has been made to experiment with it, I can move back to reading and writing and planning for the next steps in my academic writing. The tea has all been drunk, the jangling has ceased and I feel calmer as I take my plans and re-directions and head back to my writing den.



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