What do you mean, “Write”?

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*Updated

Over the years, I have developed a writing habit. Or, maybe, the inclination was already there and I just needed to tap into it, pop open the lid, and let it overflow. But writing has become the way I digest the world around me. Whether it’s the diary I kept as a teenager, the dissertation I handed in last May, or the notes to self I add to my Evernote notebooks, writing is my way to think through problems, ideas, questions. And I do this on a regular basis so that I don’t lose those loose threads of thought. My life is so busy nowadays, and I don’t have the luxury of spending whole days writing. I have trained myself to write regularly and write in bite-sized bursts.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I work with graduate student writers and help them work toward their writing goals. When I work with graduate students, I try not to just offer suggestions (Here’s a laundry list of things you could do to finish this dissertation) but to also help them understand what’s at the root of their writing woes. (Why can’t you get past chapter 1? What is keeping you from starting your introduction? Why have you been stalled for years on the same project?) I’d like to think my training as a humanities scholar trained me to think in such deep ways about the questions students bring to me, but I also think it has to do with the fact that, deep down, I enjoy talking about writing, and I enjoy writing.

(This wasn’t always the case. But I digress…)

One of the suggestions I offer my students is to write every day, or at least every day. Some think that’s crazy talk. Some feel overwhelmed just thinking about it. Some think it works for others but wouldn’t work for them. Many invoke the specter of “inspiration,” that inspiration will hit at some point and that conference paper will emerge out of thin air.

Maybe.

If you think of writing as only the polished, organized, ready-to-wear kind of writing that you can publish right out of the bag, then yeah. You can’t do that every day. But if you think about writing in all of its different shapes and forms, you just might do it every day…or at least on a regular basis.

Although I recognize that the “write every day” may not work for some, trying it won’t hurt anyone. Part of the resistance comes from assumptions about what “writing” entails. That made me think: maybe I should explain #whatiwrite when I write every day. Here it goes:

  • notes (to self, mostly).
  • ideas. I jam them into Evernote, and put them in a particular notebook. I also have a Word doc I share with my writing buddy, and put there random things I’ve been thinking about, related to my research, my blog posts, etc.
  • Comments on articles, and not just the academic kind.
  • questions. Usually things I’m wondering about.
  • quotations. Something that struck me.
  • things to do.

Of course I do all sorts of other writing throughout the day, for example for work, but this is the kind of writing connected to my academic career. I see writing as tied to my academic persona, and as an alternative academic I find that my writing gives credibility to the fact that the research side of my brain is always in motion. In a way, writing has become the way I keep the research gears in my heard turning. Writing is how I stay relevant.

But, aside from the career implications, writing feels good. Writing is a reminder I am alive.

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