You may have noticed that PhD2Published has been very busy recently chairing live chats on Twitter (#acwri) and collecting various blog posts, all concerned with the process of academic writing. Charlotte initially set up PhD2Published to find out more about academic publishing and to make use of it as a space built around peer-to-peer sharing. As Managing Editor I have tried to emulate this ethos and have found this to be incredibly useful so far. With this in mind, I am currently engaging in regular dialogues through both this site and other forms of social media to learn more about what is essentially the foundation of academic publishing; writing.
Spurred on to some extent by Charlottes AcBoWriMo initiative back in November 2011 and a chat initiated by Dr Jeremy Segrott on Twitter, it is clear that many academics have the desire to discuss and explore issues around their shared experiences of academic writing and how this may subsequently lead to different forms of written publication. In participating in this newly established online community and with the desire to share what I am learning, I have come across several useful resources that focus on just this topic and I wanted to share one in particular here today. Carol Smart’s discussion of academic writing is interesting because she explicitly confronts the particular challenges and problems faced by academic writers and offers potential shifts in thinking that may make dealing with these challenges more workable.
In The Emotional Challenges of Writing (available as a video and a written transcript) Carol draws on personal experiences to think about how difficulties in writing may be overcome. It is initially helpful that she acknowledges that writing can be challenging, even for those who are technically gifted or very experienced. I often feel frustrated that I can’t get words down on a page even though I know how to do it, so it is comforting to recognise that this is not just an issue with me. Carol argues that the reasons for these challenges often stem from the kinds of emotional questions that inevitably arise when embarking on a new project or writing task; what will my peers think? Am I as good as my peers?, and so on. She also recognises that academic writing produces often contradictory feelings and insecurities in individuals and that it can be depressing and overwhelming at times. Her suggestion for overcoming this is to try to become more aware of your personal writing rhythms, no matter how peculiar they may be and lighten up a bit about what you want to say. As she rightly points out, writing is about being part of a conversation rather than setting something down in stone.
I particularly like what she has to say about getting stuck with writing. Quite often when I write I have little idea what it is I am trying to argue and I worry that this is wrong or means my thinking and writing lacks rigour. Carol suggests though that she also does this, particularly when deriving ideas from data. While at times this may lead to dead ends, this can actually become part of the creativity of writing (and thinking) that also makes it very enjoyable.
Even though Carol’s full discussion is available online, I have briefly reviewed this resource as a way of opening up a dialogue on the PhD2Published site about academic writing. Not everyone is on Twitter or is able to join the live chats so this post is intended to be a catalyst for continuing a conversation about academic writing online and extending its reach. I genuinely believe, as do others, that academic writing is the foundation of academic publishing, yet it is also fraught with emotional and technical difficulties that are easier to acknowledge and hopefully overcome in a peer-to-peer sharing space. Please do post any useful resources that focus on academic writing that you come across here and do raise questions and discussion. What are the main challenges you face as an academic writer? What kinds of writing do you find most challenging? What do you want to learn more about from more experienced writers?