When I first started writing this blog over ten years ago, my initial intent was to use the space to help me practice writing frequently and purposefully. It was an opportunity to target my writing on topics I thought were interesting – initially with a pseudo-intellectual angle but later it developed its own personality. At its high point I think I was posting more than an article a week, and on a good day my blog gained over 300 views. In blogging terms, that’s quite small but to me it mattered, and I feel that’s what is important. The writing had purpose, direction, and ownership, as good writing arguably should have. This writing encouraged me to write beyond these pages, and even drove me to consider greater things.
Over the past few years, the blog has not won as much attention from me. There could be a range of excuses for this but they are really only relevant to me. I’m a bit cautious of doing the whole ‘I’m sorry I haven’t posted in [checks blog] two years’, because I’m not actually sorry. Also, if you check artist Cory Arkangel’s project Sorry I haven’t posted you can get an idea of the pit of cliché one could find themselves in.
One thing I think about with this blog and blogs in general is do people even read them anymore – when I first started writing there was youtube and bit of twitter, and maybe podcasts were starting to take off. Now the range of media options seems endless and even choosing the right platform to put writing on seems to be a dilemma in its own right. Coming back to this blog, I want to talk about the reason I’m posting today and this is using it to try to build confidence as a writer through reflection on my academic writing as part of my ongoing Doctor of Education.
The academic writing process – dissertation level
For the past number of years, I’ve been doing my EdD with University of Glasgow. The first number of years presented their own challenges, but since 2018 or 2019 it has really been relentless as a challenge. While the process itself is difficult, the individual in question (me) has battled endlessly with the need to focus and to meet the targets set as part of the course. While there are practical issues which have been important, many aspects of the modules I worked on required quite abstract thinking and theorising, and my brain really struggled to do. For the life of me, I cannot comprehend this. In the end I needed quite a lot of scaffolding and support from my tutors, and I was very fortunate that they were both patient and objective.
In between forays into rewrites and resubmissions was a constant wait for the next step or stage. You write, you submit, you wait. You wait a little longer, and then you get a response (be it a grade or feedback or similar), and then you either write again or wait some more. Sometimes when writing from a position where my work was deemed to lack the high standards expected from the programme, it felt like I was writing blindly. This lack of vision is always present, but when my initial journey was unsuccessful (shall we say) I was more conscious of the perils ahead and wrote more cautiously with fear that it might be wrong. Of course, academic writing requires that kind of caution in writing as you need to be conscious that every angle explored is addressed and supported appropriately. It is arduous but the rigour is necessary as there are many ideas and as much research on these topics floating around and backing up what you’re thinking lends to the authority of your own ideas. It also encourages your individuality as a writer and thinker.
Depending on your successes at this, it can influence your confidence and how you think about your ability. It goes far beyond thinking of something and then putting them down in a word document. In its own way, getting beyond this learning curve is like crossing the horizon – you can never really be sure you’ve done it until you meet some point where you absent-mindedly realise ‘oh, I’ve done it’. And then ask ‘now what do I do?’, and that’s often a bit daunting.
Writing at the moment is not an easy thing because it has consumed me – both when I’m writing and I can’t choose the right way to start a sentence or something. And when I’m not at my computer, even in the supermarket or bringing kids to school.
It’s a confidence thing, as the more delays I’ve faced and the more downtime and uncertainty I’ve tried to navigate, has drawn me further from my project and left me confused. Indeed, I even think that the longer I’ve sat away from the practice of writing for this dissertation the harder it has been to return to the way in which I should be thinking. When I can’t write – and there have been many reasons over the past 18 months – returning guiltily to the neglected word document of my draft is not easy. An apology to what I should be doing does not suffice as it is one of those things the only person who deserves an apology is me.
Reflecting on this process
I’ve tried to write here as a process of reflection. A lot of things have gone on in my life, especially with Covid obviously, but also with my study, job(s), professional and personal growth, and with my family. Things change all the time, and while the progress has been slow in my study if I look back where I was some time back it could be valued as good progress. I try to tell people who struggle with language that they should not worry – we are all on the same journey, it’s just that others are at different points, but we will all get where we need to be eventually. I could apply this to my own situation, but I also have a deadline to meet.
Reflection works for me here as so much water has passed under the bridge, and the time has come for me to assess where I stand. I feel distant from the project I’m working on, but this shouldn’t be the case because it is my project with my ideas, research, and input. I need to try to understand what I am doing. It is also only really me who knows what I want it to look like and crafting it to this desired shape when parts won’t stick together or even fall off entirely needs a lot of rethinking, re-evaluating, revisualising. I hope for me that this blog will help me to get through part of this process.
Thanks for reading.