An impromptu meeting with my PhD student in the corridor got me thinking about the concept of how we find our voice in academic writing. He’d been having some difficulty writing the methodology chapter of his thesis – he knows what he wants to say but is finding it hard to get the words down in a form, structure and style that he likes. I started thinking about finding our writing voice when he said “I’ve just been reading and re-reading your methodology section as I really like it – I want to be able to do it like that”. We had a chat about this concept and in supervisor mode (that’s an interesting comment – I have a mode for this?), I talked about the need for him to find his authorial voice, saying that while we can admire the writing style of others, we can’t force ourselves to write in a style that doesn’t fit who we are as becoming academic writers. We don’t want to be a tracer, we want to be a creator.
In a meeting with Maryann later that day the idea of voice emerged again. I was telling Maryann that in our joint paper I could hear her voice as I read – and this was not a bad thing. Her writing voice is thoughtful, honest, warm, engaging and it takes me on a journey each time I read it. I thought my voice clashed with hers. In the paper we were working on my voice seemed clipped and stilted and I felt like I was trying to jam my writing into a nice conventional structure that didn’t quite work. Maryann said she could hear my doctoral supervisor in my writing, and I began talking about the doctoral thesis hangover.
I think the doctoral thesis hangover comes from the need to support everything I said in my thesis so strongly with what other people had written and researched – now when I write I’m still breaking free from the shackle that screams “ASSERTION” in bold capitals as I write. I remember when I was writing my thesis I kept questioning “When do I get to say something new, something that’s mine?” Now that my thesis is behind me, I’m still building that confidence to say something that’s mine without referencing it to someone else, someone older, wiser, more experienced, more published.
Last night, I lay in bed thinking about this idea – it bloomed and throbbed, creeping out and filling up the spaces in the dark. I woke up needing the academic equivalent of a bloody mary or an academic hair of the dog – what might it be? I opened a file that contained some half-written papers and I started to read. In them I could hear my voice, the voice that I was struggling to keep quiet while writing my thesis, it was gaining more volume in these half-written, unfinished drafts. So now, I’m sitting at my computer, a cup of tea lays quietly beside me and I’m going to spend the morning singing my song of words.