Academic Writing

Scholarly Writing… So Where Am I So Far?

So Scholarly Writing in Education has completed. I have submitted all my assignments and attended the lectures. I have enjoyed the course immensely, I’ve been fascinated by the work of my peers, and learned from their feedback. I’m going to attend an Exit Interview with our professor in a few days, so let’s take a moment to think about what it is I think I have learned.

Don’t sod about filing your e-mail, writing crap and taking bloody quizzes on Facebook, or trawling iTunes for a new album to have on in the background… while you do everything you can think of except bloody write! If you have to flow write, then flow write. Sort it out later, but if you don’t get something down, well, as Douglas Adams—amazing British author of inestimable wit—has been widely quoted as saying, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” (Stade & Karbiener, 2009, p. 5)

Annie Dillard (1990), said it a great deal more poetically:

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. (p. 78)

Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes (p. 79).

Write while you can—or tomorrow, when you open that safe door—the phoenix may not arise from the ashes, and you may find yourself staring at an extremely unforgiving blank page.

This Time it’s Personal
The most effective pieces I have written in this course have been personal. They have involved taking some part of myself—embarrassing, frightening, or desperately painful—and trying to put that emotion into words. There may not necessarily be scope for that kind of investment of self in a scholarly work. A quantitative comparison of assessment strategies may not engender much feeling, but sincerity of feeling and purpose should always be a part of academic investigation.

Center of Gravity
Focus, the main point of your article, center of gravity, whatever you want to call it, make it obvious and make it front and center. Spell it out clearly and as eloquently as you can manage. Set the tone for the rest of your piece. I don’t always succeed here, but it’s something this course has highlighted as one of my main areas for improvement. Sometimes I don’t get to the bloody point.

Be Open
Open yourself up to different styles of writing, different subject matter and approaches to what you would usually choose. You may not like it, you may not go back to it, but if it’s any good, you’ll probably learn something new. Or at the very least, a new way to say something you wouldn’t have discovered from your regular reading.

Which leads me to…

Read… and Listen
Read as much and as often as you can. In contrary to some advice I’ve heard, read class, read crap, and everything in between. Even what you think of as crap will teach you how you don’t want to write, what to avoid, how not to say something; while class will give you aspirations.

And don’t give me any of that old garbage about time and opportunity. When I’m not working at university or in my study at home, then I’m driving between the two, or running my kids around south eastern Ontario. I drive for hours every week. Sometime I drive for hours each day, several days a week. When I drive, I listen to audiobooks. You can learn even more from audiobooks. If it’s a book you know well, listen to the readers’ interpretations of the rhythm of the text; is that the rhythm you heard in your head when you read that text? Are those phrases still as graceful? How do you hear your work when it’s read?

Anyway, that’s what runs through my mind when I think back on this course… fascinating and fun.

And The Last Word…
As the first words were pretty much summed up  by Calvin and Hobbes in my first entry for this blog, so should be the last. Recognizable by graduate students and anybody who has had to produce text for a living anywhere…



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