Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Tales from the library: learning (again) about writing

OK, for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, it's been summer. Most of the time. For me, that's involved a great family holiday to Brittany (France), more than a bit of planning for next years' courses and...writing. Oh, and more writing. To prove the holiday bit, see the pictures.

If you're reading this, you may do writing of your own. You and I know a long list of things about writing, but the thing is, these things only stay in our heads for short periods of time. Most of the time we are writing idiots. When we are writing, we realise things such as:

  • Despite the best background reading, planing and drafting the ACTUAL process of writing is a bit of a discovery, as the text created brings is done at a particular moment, has to connect to writing before and writing you anticipate coming after and so on. Unless you are copying, the act of writing is (hopefully) an act of thinking things through, even if it isn't the first time you have thought about them. Writing is messy, and often hard work.
  • Things you thought would fit together into a neat little narrative don't. In my case, I had a well developed plan for a review of literature. The plan looked great, but I just couldn't string certain sections together. I was beginning to tell a story, and some content I thought would be helpful just didn't contribute to that story. I had to improvise and re-think.
  • Writing takes time, but most of us don't have the luxury of uninterrupted hours of writing in an ivory tower. I have learnt to use different 'slots' of time for different things, and to prepare well to make the best use of writing time. For lots of writing, time just has to be made, and writing needs prioritising over emails, planning and even reading that Game of Thrones book. 
  • Sometimes I have just had to walk away, or the writing and I would have had a fight. On occasion, having some space from a section that just wasn't working was the best thing. Of course, on other occasions, I just needed to slog through. Judging when to step back and when to press on is a learnt skill. The litmus test involves having a headache, obsessing over silly little details and getting angry. Step away from the keyboard, sir.
  • Sometimes we just don't need to include certain things. I have made the mistake, on several occasions, of spending quite a long time on a particular section that if I was honest, I didn't really need. Perhaps it was something I thought I should know, but it just wasn't needed. None of us are immune from writing cul-de-sacs (planning minimises them), but I have tried to learn to spot them early on, and to be ruthless. If I'm not sure, I'll cut and paste the text somewhere else and if I don't miss it, it's usually a confirmation. 
  • Some things might even need major revision, but editing is part of writing. I think on a bad day I have this idea that I will write, it will be done, and then I will simply move on. Sometimes this happens. I crashed a few days ago when I realised that my draft findings and discussion chapter needed major work. I wanted to curl up into a ball. I complained to several people. After this, I had to summarise the contents of the chapter for my annual PhD progression report, and realised that in this case, re-working the material really improved it. I am almost reconciled to the idea of re-writing and editing that huge monster of a chapter.

Because of my surprising ability to forget about writing, I could add to this list. The important thing is that I am...doing it. I've avoided procrastination, and made progress as a result.

Keep your eyes on the goal: stay on target.
(See what I did there?)