tholl075@uottawa.ca

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8 Feb 2015

Writing…keeping me honest

I am in my second week of a newly formed writing group.  My supervisor (Dr. Ruth Kane) is incredible and has asked me to join a group of inspiring women to focus on our professional writing.  This is a major area of weakness for me.  It is not that I don’t enjoy writing; I just haven’t published much (yet!) outside of my professional life as an educator.  There really is a big difference between academic writing and the type of writing I have been doing.  This writing group is a great opportunity for me to focus more on the academic side and learn some of the tricks of the trade.  It is also a great place for me to connect with recent PhD graduates and outstanding professors. Most of these women have also managed to balance this academic life with children and thus, serve as great role models.

The book that Dr. Kane has chosen to focus our work is Wendy Laura Belcher’s “Writing your Journal Article in 12 Weeks- A Guide to Academic Publishing Success”.  Guiding me along this journey is the book “Learn to Write Badly” by Michael Billig (a required text for Dr. Richard Barwell’s course), which I found to be a great read that highlighted some of my concerns (frustrations) about academic writing.

25435_Belcher_Writing_your_Journal_Article_in_12_Weeks_72ppiRGB_150pixw                                                                                              learn to write badly

We are currently working on Week 2- and this post will summarize what struck me from these 2 weeks.

Week 1Designing Your Plan for Writing

This week really was about getting underneath your feelings about writing and in particular, academic writing.  Some of the negative feelings from Belcher’s classes really spoke to me:

  • I enjoy revising, but I hate getting that first draft down (for me it feels so permanent and somehow I am always hoping that it would be better- it just doesn’t sound as good as I thought it was in my head).
  • I feel like procrastinating whenever I think of how much writing I have to do and how little I have done (I am a massive procrastinator- maybe it is because it delays my disappointment of seeing what I actually put in print- see above).

I also am really feeling the imposter syndrome in this academic world when it comes to academic writing.  I want my writing to be useful to educators and, in general, I don’t see that happening with many published articles.  This view is echoed by Billig in his discussion of academic language- “One thing has not altered: if students and their teachers try to use simple, clear language, rather than big specialized concepts and phrases, then they will risk appearing as if they were inadequate, untrained and, most importantly, as if they did not belong”(p.63).  I want my writing to be clear and simple; I find the most impressive writers are those who convey complex ideas in ways that I can easily understand them.  This is one of my goals and luckily I have some great models in this writing group. This will be a great process for me.

  • Successful Academic Writers Write… “First and foremost, get writing!”- Samuel Eliot Morison.  If we want to get better, we need to get writing.  Makes sense…and Belcher encourages setting a plan for writing- daily.  It is not about having long chunks of writing time; it is about consistent and daily writing that will help improve our writing and increase those positive feelings.  By meeting as a writing group and making our writing social, we will have a better chance to be successful.  We have committed to 1 hour of writing for 5 days a week and a meeting once a week as a group.  In order to keep me on track, I will keep the following in mind when I feel crunched for time:  “those likely to describe themselves as very ‘busy’ or very ‘stressed’ did not produce as much as those who were writing steadily.  In other words, you are not too busy to write, you are busy because you do not write. Busy-ness is what you do to explain your not writing”(p.5).
  • Persist despite rejection- I think of J.K. Rowling here and many others!
  • Pursue your passion- write about what is meaningful to you…”Whatever your pump is, paint it”
  • Selecting a text for revision- What have you already written? I am thinking of 2 texts- one that would be very meaningful to me and something that I have been wanting to work on for a long time.  The other a research study that would need a lot of revising.
  • Choose a writing site- my home office is perfect now that we have rearranged it to have me looking outside rather than at the wall- who knew that was all it would take to get me comfortable!
  • Design a writing schedule- trickier- but I am committed to finding that one hour a day.
  • Anticipate writing obstacles- these are excellent!  A few stood out as most relevant to me- these were Number 5 “I’m going to make writing my number one goal in life” [demands for time and perfection encourage its avoidance], Number 7- “I have to read just one more book” [“Writers who learn to leave holes in manuscripts to be filled later master valuable skills in writing: they learn to proceed amid ambiguity and uncertainty” (Boice)] and Number 28 “I need big blocks of time to write, and my schedule doesn’t allow such blocks” [long stretches are elusive and “people who use only big blocks of time to write are less productive and more unhappy than those who write daily”].
  • In the end, I don’t have the luxury of long blocks of time (family and comprehensive exam time!) so I am going to do what I can and remember- “feeling too much guilt is counterproductive”(p.41).

Week 2- Starting Your Article

  • Types of academic articles are described as are the weight they each have on a hiring committee- very helpful for a graduate student.  Unfortunately, the article I have chosen to pursue doesn’t seem to be among this list.
  • Myths about publishable journal articles- what gets published and why.  Once again, this is very helpful for a student.
  • Ingredients of a good abstract- this is the assignment for the week and the book provides excellent tips and examples.  Not only is developing the abstract an important first step for the writer as it focuses your energy to the topic and argument, but according to APA (1994) “a well-prepared abstract can be the most important paragraph in your article”(qtd. on p.54).
  • Reread your paper & make a list of revision tasks- this is a big one for me.  Not only will I have to cut down the article, I will have to add in newer information and change the narrative focus.
  • Draft the abstract & then SHARE.  This is where I am right now.  I have to draft the abstract and then share it with my writing partner (coordinated by Dr. Kane).  This is what makes writing social and will keep me honest (and on track time-wise).
  • Read a model article- I have actually already done this and have targeted a journal where I would like to submit my work.  I am working backwards from this model to craft my abstract.
  • Revise the abstract- keeping my reviewer’s comments in mind.

OK- off to draft that abstract…no procrastination.

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