The Admitted Perils of Academic Writing


At the two year milestone of my five year Doctor of Education I thought I’d take the time to return to this blog to talk a little about how it’s going and how it has helped and/or hindered my writing. I often look to this very blog as a great influence for becoming a more prolific, and in that sense a better writer. It was the encouragement I got online that drove me forward and which later saw me getting both non-fiction and journalism published, but also my poetry and some stories. It is also part of the reason that I felt that writing would not be such a chore while working towards my doctorate over five years.

It has been a long time thought since I’ve written any journalistic articles or poetry, which I suppose is a bit of a shame. There has also been the minor matter of having to complete a bucket or two full of reading for two large essays, as well as other activities, twice a year for my course. The course, above all, is mentally taxing, and with my kids keeping me extra busy, the joys of sitting down throwing out a thousand words appear to have vanished in the ether.

Writing academically is certainly very different. Even for all the criticisms writing academically may receive, and they are ample, I’m going to give you some feedback based on how I feel and what I understand about writing has changed.

  1. Every word matters

When you have a wordcount to fit a very complex argument into, this goes without saying. Beyond that words go even further to determine how we are understood. Agonising over phrasing is not something that only creative writers shed tears over. Individual words mean specific things and how we say things bears connotations. Shift + F7 really doesn’t find the right answers and even if it is the right word, it’s likely that in review someone will find a more appropriate word. Accuracy seems to be king and striving for perfection seems to make the world, at least when writing academic pieces. What is said and how it is done so seems to carry greater weight than ever, and even then the accuracy may be left wanting.

  1. Your opinion hardly matters

Don’t take this too hard, because I’m listening, really, but it’s just that regardless of what you’re saying I just prefer what that other person is saying. But hey, it’s ok, thanks for trying and maybe next time I’ll pick up something you wrote. Such is the way that I think dialogue surrounds the world of academic writing.

For the hours that people probably spend devoted to the work they are experts in, become respected and become sought after and respected and all those other positive word, it may be the case that there are as many people who discount your findings or hard work because of some fickle reason. The hours spent crafting are a labour of love, but this love does not appear to be reciprocal.

  1. Does being a good writer matter?

It is an answer which I thought would carry me through many of the hurdles this process is presenting to me. I thought that, as a strength, it would single me out advantageously. And perhaps it will do so, but only after much more time working and crafting the way that I write. I was kind of scuppered some months back as I was hauled in as the quality of my writing was put to task. It was not said that how I wrote was bad or good or anything like that. Essentially, I was told that my writing was wrong. I’d never really considered writing as ever being that way.

The rebellious part of me wanted to raise the middle finger and carry on attempting to break the system. This part of me huffed and puffed and spat and cursed, but to what end? It struck me as things were explained to me that the content was what mattered, and not the style, as the primary function of writing in an academic setting. Style, it would appear, is secondary, and a product of the labours of accurate graft.

Don’t get me wrong: it is very important to be able to write well, but well is defined as being concise, clearly, and highly organised, often with the choice of particular words agonised over. Not, as is my wont, a glorious fluent adjective laden cavalcade of English whisking the reader away on a personal narrative of insight and romance. No.

  1. What’s in a comma?

Following on from previous points, the individual functions and purposes of different elements of writing count. They are tied in, not only with style, but also more than I have felt before. The comma, for example, all but a simple short tick downward at the heel of a word can carry the meaning of a sentence, and with that it can carry the meaning of a paragraph, and perhaps it could disjoint the meaning of 1000 words. Placement is as important as non-placement, and perhaps you should really think about why are there so many commas and no full stops. The comma is a vital piece of punctuation that should be considered superior in the crafting of any written piece, but in an academic essay it becomes something far more sophisticated and which has a particularity that not only controls what and how we say, but what do we actually mean when we write words. This is a message which concerns every single utterance from the keyboard, and while the comma is of course a significant example to

  1. There is no such thing as a final draft

I say this with a pinch of salt. Of course everything must be completed and submitted with a sense of finality. It takes a brave writer to say anything they’ve written is complete, regardless of genre, but the more I write the more errors I find, the more I discover passages that needs rewriting. On top of this personal reflection it appears that even the realm of academic writing purposefully seeks out reasons for further drafts to be completed.

Do not get me mistaken with someone who does not appreciate the necessity for new drafts or a significant review. We are all constantly striving to improve our writing to reach the highest standard, but sometimes reaching an agreeable standard may be the most difficult task of all.

Personally, I have found that I have had to change not only the ay in which I write, but also the style of my writing. Gone, I hope from an academic perspective at least, are the long winding and circuitous prose-like sentences of my former self. Now, brevity is king, but a frequently flexible ruler I should emphasise. I am no longer an expert and my opinion now counts for very little, and the quality of my craft once lauded for its finesse has been turned on its head by those who simply know so much more about the game I am trying to play. What I am trying to say here is that I have tried to be myself and found this coming up short and that a new writer needs to be found from somewhere within, if such a thing is possible.

So that is that. Academic writing has been me and it is where I have been. I am, more than ever, learning a new game and it is far from what I thought I was capable of. Probably I look at this as one of the biggest lessons I will learn, as I have been turned inside out a little, and I have had my confidence taken out, turned upside down and given a good shaking. What is left in my pockets is small change and probably a dirty tissue and a few receipts (what’s new?). I have to make do with this and what remains stuck to my bones. If that is possible, then I will do so. Until then, I had better go and catch up with some reading I should be doing. Education waits for no man, or woman.

 

P.S. To spite the system I am slowly being engulfed by I am avoiding a thorough review of this article in the hope that my genius shines through, spelling mistakes or no.

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Trying to Appreciate Time and Effort


I frequently look back on everything I’ve written in this blog and think that it has all been a complete waste of time. I can’t count the amount of words I’ve written, I’m sure there are several books worth, but what is it worth when all it does is sit there waiting to come up in a Google search? This isn’t the first time I’ve had this notion, and for the most part I’ve held on to the blog itself mostly because of nostalgia. Deleting from the record over four years of work just doesn’t seem right to me, but then I wonder again.

What concerns me is what the blog has done to me. Granted I haven’t been writing much here, or indeed anywhere of late, but it has stifled my written output elsewhere. It has always been a distraction, something which I have written on and felt that my need to write something has been quenched. So many times I’ve felt guilty for writing on my blog when I could have sat down and wrote something else, something more challenging, something I would perplex over and frustrate myself trying to find someone to publish it. But this blog’s greatest publishing quandary is coming up with more intuitive tags to lure new readers.

I can’t say I’m not proud of my blog here, but there is a bitter cynical streak in my veins which asks that regardless of what you have written, who is reading it? I’m not suggesting that I want some post to go viral, or that I want to be some class of a power blogger, in the Korean sense. I don’t really think that my opinions are any more valid that anyone else who may have a blog, or indeed anyone who may actually be able to think and act for themselves. I think I just always hoped for more to come of it.

This blog grew from itself. It started slow. It started confused. It had a longwinded and unread infancy, but at some stage around its second birthday I suppose it started to get a little popular. The number of readers managed to regularly peak around fifty a day, and for me this was a success. I felt like it was my duty to write for these people, whoever they were. I don’t know what I was writing about, you can check my archive for that, but I do recall that I was having fun.

It was perhaps that writing that was the most exciting aspect. I learned at that time how to really use the keyboard to my advantage, and I think I actually believed in myself as someone who had the skill to craft a beautiful sentence. As my grandfather might say, it takes a lot of them to fill a pint. Yet, there was something about what I was doing. The more I tried to change and grow as a blogger the better reactions I earned.

One time when I was considering quitting the blog writing thing I opened up a 10 Magazine where I had an article written that month, and in it Ifound that my blog was featured as Blog of the Month. It wasn’t really a major accolade by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt good to get a little recognition from a fellow blogger and blog reader.

I think that every time I half considered quitting blog writing some small thing like this happened and I got a little more impetus to continue writing. I can recall regularly panic writing a blog conclusion with five minutes before a class started, and spending the down time in that class adding the tags and uploading photographs in a frenzy as if the very action of writing could not wait until I got home, or at least back to my office. When the post went out I would then sit back and refresh my blog stats waiting for a spike in views. This kind of recognition was kind of a drug.

Since I’ve been back in Ireland I think my posts just haven’t garnered the half-frenzy of attention I thought they got in Korea. I probably haven’t tried hard enough, but that would imply that I’ve tried to make me blog a success in Ireland. For some reason the blog just doesn’t seem to have the same function here. It is still necessary, but I think it has become more of a personal venting space than anything, and who wants to read that? Maybe I could look for something to talk about more, but I struggle to find that new guile required.

I still believe that without my blog I don’t think I could have been as confident a writer as I am now.

Well, that is a little unfair. I could easily have become as confident if not a more confident writer without this function, but my blog successes have encouraged me to continue trying and to persevere and to understand that you cannot expect success to be immediate. I need to remember this lesson more than ever these days.

But I also strongly believe that it has been a mighty distraction which has blinkered me a lot about my understanding of how writing and the world works. I believe that for some reason it has scuppered many opportunities, but if you asked me what opportunities these are I could not list them.

Now that I say all this I think that the problem is not with my blog and blogging itself, it is my own maturity as a writer and an individual looking for a sense of self when I am feeling quite lost at sea. Perhaps, as I look for a conclusion and an understanding here, I could say that maybe the blog has matured me to expect more from myself and to step beyond my comfort zone and accept new challenges. This is perhaps what I should say, and stop looking for ways to blame my blog for doing nothing but help me know myself a little more.

 

*Don’t worry, this is not the end of my blog, just thinking out loud….AGAIN*

Writting Weapon


I have been writing a lot less lately as I explained. For whatever reasons, not only here on this blog, but outright I’ve written remarkably little in the past four months. Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly trying to dig myself out of this period of inactivity. It kind of clicked whilst going over my recent whinge that using my blog is the ideal way to help me.

image

There’s still the constant concern that it will be another drain on my attention while I should be focusing elsewhere, but I think I need this now. I need to refocus and I need to think differently than I have been thinking. There’s needs to be more than the be all and end all. I need to think about more than just me.

I scribbled a few things down which I liked, and I figured let me put them here and see what the internet thinks.

*

Seanie slapped me across the puss

And said would you come away from

Yourself you goon you’re all there

I can feel you tingling on my fingertips

from the belt I just dealt you pull your

head away from that noose and do me

a favour and just write something even

if it’s just you whining about not writing

with little or no excuse other than

you’re havent been enclined to.

*

This is a city of hi-vis. Hi-vis and earthy tones. A thousand shades of stone. Words in lights. Red-crossed zones. Tricolours illuminated. Fleshed. Bones. Buses home.

Dublin entering that perpetually about to start to rain stage of year.

Bicycles will be removed. Drops on the stainless steel. Mottled shape shoulders and a bus facade. Cold to touch but who would know?

Troubadour opens his door. Yer all wet ye are says he, not up O’Connnell Street, down the quays. A 46A or 38. A siren sings his door closed.

*

That’s it. I thought I had more. Must be writing too many job application letters* or something.

More to come me hopes.

“Poetry & Art” – An Essay on Creative Production (2008)


During 2008 I was slap bang in the middle of a masters in 20th and 21st Century Literature in the University of Southampton. At the time, one of the course options was a poetry writing module, which was part of a larger creative writing MA but suitable candidates could take part if they had proof of having written before, and I had.

I don’t go on much here about writing poetry, and sometimes I think I should, but perhaps I feel that writing is something I struggle enough at without having to pretend to know what I’m talking about. The poetry class I took made it a requirement to actually write an essay proving to a certain extent that I did have a clue what I was talking about.

Looking back at it now, I can recognise some strong elements of theory and understanding of what I was doing in my own writing, in a time when I knew less of my actual poetic direction than I do now, and I maintain I know nothing to this day. That’s not to say that I write bad poetry, just don’t ask me to give you a notion on what my actual goals are, other than to write and get published more (you can read some of my published poems here and here – but be sure to read some of the other great poetry on both these sites).

This essay though was written five years ago, so in advance allow me to offer my defence. I don’t think I’ve ever written as much as I have in the five years that immediately preceeded this essay, so I think my writing is better. I’ve also got my bullshit detector a bit more finely tuned, although still far from perfect. I haven’t edited this, except for a few typos, so please feel free to pick through it and raise any points in the comments section. There are large tracts where I related to my own poetry, and in terms of that you can refer to this document which includes all the poems which the actual essay was referring to (again, I have not edited these poems and consider them to be in their so-called original state).

So without further adieu, allow me to present my essay full of self criticism, self appraisal, but hopefully not self destructive.

“Poetry and Art”

Southampton, December 2008

Why and what am I writing for? What is the significance of my own ability as a poet or writer and what good can come of it? I have tried to confront as many themes and different styles for varying poetic effect. I have amalgamated my writing into a project which presents to the reader a journey. The ‘journey’ is an artistic journey from the position of questioning my ability, to understanding, and to the eventual acceptance and use of poetry as a means of conveying a message.

I have experimented with the use of language and its effect on the poem. Of course, there are various definitions of language and each affect us differently. A simple search on the internet for ‘language’ will reveal a primary concern with translation and learning new languages; this directs us towards the function of ‘language’ in poetry. Poetic language is a means of translating the world into art, the same as painting or sculpture, but in this case, with language and words. By learning to be ‘poetic’ we understand a new way of speaking and looking. This all sounds very simple, but that is its beauty; that it is simple and easy to understand.

With this in mind, I have used my own experiences and ideas to help my writing. I have used a mix of reality and imagination to create a blend of language which represents truth. At the same time, I have remained conscious of the fact that simple language portraiture has little function other than aesthetic. For me, poetry must contain more than just a picture.

I have added into my work emotion, nature, and the subconscious self that cannot be transmitted in conventional terms. Of course I am conscious of the disadvantage of individual interpretation. Human interpretation is, as Susan Sontag termed it ‘the revenge of the intellect upon art’[1]. And it is not only Sontag who holds this opinion. Nietzsche said:

“The feeling that one is obliged to describe on thing as red, another as cold, and a third as dumb, prompts a moral impulse which pertains to truth; from its opposite, the liar whom no one trusts and all exclude, human beings demonstrate to themselves just how honorable, confidence-inspiring truth is”[2]

 With that in mind, how do we know what poetry is? How can I tell that what I am writing is ‘true’?

Wittgenstein said that ‘mutual understanding, and hence language, depends on nothing more or nothing less than shared forms of life, call it our mutual attunement or agreement in our criteria’[3]. As a poet one is not left in the world with only feelings to decipher but left in the world with meaning to respond to[4]. Art is created for a response to be created from it, not dictated from it. Poetry must insist on running its own course, finding its own measures, and charting its own course in hidden or denied places as a means of unlocking its true feeling and expression.

When I write, one of the things that I want to address the world and the problems and realities which, I believe, the twenty-first century has forced. Consumer culture and the loss of the individual’s sense of individuality is one of these pressing forces. I have tried to explain that through the desire for all things material we have allowed ourselves to be consumed by the society we live in, leaving our lifestyles to be decided on by ‘decrees of state’. My own attempt of finding poetic truth has been hindered by what Nietzsche has drawn attention to:

 “humankind, where deception, flattery, lying and cheating, speaking behind the backs of others, keeping up appearances, living in borrowed finery, wearing masks, the drapery of convention, play-acting for the benefit of others and oneself — in short the constant fluttering of human beings around one flame of vanity is so much as the fact that an honest and pure drive towards truth should ever have emerged in them”[5]

 With this in mind, there is a fashion of living in large expansive housing estates where all the homes are the same design and shape and colour. In Ireland, near my home town, this is particularly the case, where huge stretches of field have been turned over to construction companies who have built thousands of houses which, to me, have little or no character, with even less public amenities; except for a small green patch in front for the children to play on when it is not raining. Lives and the deep, deep reality of life have been clouded over by the competition between neighbours’ own vanities. Art holds a responsibility to present realities at face value and to present to open the eyes and minds of those that are clouded over.

In saying this, art can have its own personality and avoid the politics of society. Poetry is a voice, art is a vision, what is heard and seen depends on where one looks.

Poetry as an art is concerned with the moment, one which deals specifically with the present, asking questions and presenting answers about moments which are not distinguishable from the repetitive nature of human life. Both situations may in their own right be unique, but the solutions are not. Sentimentality has little function in matters of the heart. Understanding the very motions of existence from start to finish, realizing their significance, and reacting to them, are more important than waking and running to work. Waking up in the morning brings with it a total change in the way we have perceived the world, from dream state to conscious state. The emotions brought about by change and then the sickening feeling of reality can do more damage to the subconscious, yet at the same time it can have little benefit to the individual as it will not return and it will not change. Poetry is a means of expressing the reality as it is, and diminishing the effects of trauma which comes from realization of the conformity which humanity subsists itself to.

I have presented poetry which has been inspired by the situation, the moment, and the occurrence which can only be true for the moment which it is speaking of; be it feeling, a true story, or an imaginary creation. My intention has been to prove that it does not matter what words are used, but what they say, how they are used and what they present to the reader. I want my poetry to be understandable for what it says, and for the words to interpret the poems for the reader[6], and not the other way around.

Language and literature are inseparable. It is only through this connection that we can use language as a way to express and commit our thoughts into expression.

 

[1] Susan Sontag, ‘Against Interpretation’ pp.7

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense’ pp.878

[3] Charles Bernstein, ‘The Objects of Meaning’ pp.60

[4] Ibid. pp. 61

[5] Nietzsche, pp. 875

[6] David Antin ‘Some Questions About Modernism’ http://writing.upenn.edu/library/Antin-David_Some-Q-Modernism.html

 

 

Letter from Ireland, August 2013


Dunboyne, Ireland
16 August, 2013

Dear Korea

Negativity is an often attractive topic. It’s in our nature to be critical, to find issue with what is at fault, and even when we are happy we still find reasons to complain. This isn’t exclusive to any particular situation or condition, everyone does it in some manner or form. There may be some explanation to it, but that is not my aim today.

I wanted to write today about something which has being an increasing source of bother for some time, and since I am now in Ireland I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on it from a particular standpoint.

Some time back, possibly longer than one year ago or more, I wrote a post on this blog entitled “10 Reasons Why I Dislike Korea“. I suppose when I wrote it I felt that I had to say what I said. I was feeling inciteful as well as insightful, and at the same time I was approaching the living in Korea thing from a new angle. I didn’t consider it an “I hate Korea and here’s why you should too” kind of post, and I still don’t. I read it again recently with the thought that I might take it down, but decided that no it wasn’t my post which had the problems, it was the people who read it, and of course those who commented on it who had the problems.

Regularly people find my blog with search topics which automatically create the idea that they hate Korea, or that they are looking for people who hate Korea. These kind of people who go searching for previously written complaints find my blog post with a set agenda, that is they agree with me, or accuse me of being a racist, which I don’t believe I am. But what gets me a little is that more often than not, people take what I have written and muddle my meaning.

I suppose that’s just part of writing to be read though. That some people disagree with me, or that they take what I write and twist into some other meaning and confuse and confront me as if I have some sort of agenda is something I have to deal with. I have kind of stopped replying and interacting with many commentors, with the exception of the odd clarification. That’s my way of dealing with it.

I had thought of removing the post from my blog but I think that would be against what I stand for. I do still believe in what I wrote, and if it’s a little more negative than how I usually think or write, let it be a lesson for me to think these things through. On the up side, it does bring a lot of traffic to my blog, more than many of my other posts, but I don’t get the impression that many people do what I suggest they do and that’s read some of my other posts to get an idea of how I really think.

And you know, how I think now is no different than how I ever think. I try to think as openly and as relevant to my current situation as possible. I try to approach my blog posts about wherever I may be as honestly as I can. I don’t think I’ve ever lied, or taken anything out of context before (too much). As I say, it’s a personal blog and I am just the opinion of one person. This is the internet, I suggest using it to find a counter opinion.

You see it’s always easy to choose the reasons we dislike somewhere when we are there. Call it a constant search for a better situation, or something, something that encourages us to simply desire a better slice of the cake, because every human is entitled to want.

I could easily turn around and write ten reasons why I like living in Korea (and maybe I will but it would be a challenge to avoid cliches – which may be why I wrote the ten reasons in the first place). What I can do is point to where I am now, Ireland, a country where I have lived for a lot longer than I have lived in Korea, and one where I left in 2005 when I was 23 because I disliked living here. Today I couldn’t even attempt to rattle my brain to recall the simple causes of my initial departure, but there are plenty of things which get to me already and I’ve only been bacl here on holidays for a month and half.

Things like this odd superiority complex, the casual racism, the expectation that Ireland is and always will be perfect for everyone, that it is impossible to get real, good, Korean food, that we still as a people cannot stand up and fight and demand together the changes this country needs (but this could be a universal problem), that we still can not turn left on red, and that the majority of pubs still insist on serving only Guinness, Heineken, Carlsberg, Smithwicks, Bulmers and Budweiser…

We are people and we all want a better lot. We see things which we believe can be improved and we try to talk about them, to raise awareness where we see wrong. Some things will never change, such as the poor beer choices in Ireland and the human zoo that is Costco in Korea. We hope, and in this hope we continue on, making our own changes to see the progress in our lives, because we know how little hope we stand of ever finding the solutions we seek elsewhere.

I do dislike many aspects of living in Korea, but I bear them as an acceptable weight, and I see them as challanges which would be merely different but equally pertinent in any other country I might choose to live in, including my own. There are plenty of reasons that I like Korea also, but I chose not to write about them at that time.

There is no such thing as utopia. With every situation were people live together there will always be complaint and distaste. I believe it is in our nature. The important thing is that we do our best to concern ourselves with our own goals and our own future and we look beyond what others see as wrong. No place is exempt from criticism, just as much as no country should be criticised for only its mistakes and wrongs.

The same can be said for people. If you see what someone has done or said, look back and try to see what else they have said or done and try to realise how much of a human they are and how their actions reflect our own, regardless of skin colour or place of birth. In the world, it’s all just best that we get along, regardless if we’re from Ireland or Korea or somewhere in between.