Writing My Life

What with the recent National Day of Writing and my participation in the P2PU learning lab in Writing & the Common Core, there’s been a lot of urging for folks to write, publicly and often. I started musing about writing in my life and thought I’d take my musing here.

I feel like I write constantly: hours a day on my dissertation proposal, email, tweets, sometimes on The English Companion Ning, sometimes even here on my blog. I’ve got a pro account at Penzu so that I can access the space on my iPad, even when I’m offline. I studied writing for three years (I know, I know– school junkie) and was in a weekly writing group until doctoral life took over.

My relationship with writing has changed over the years. Right now, my challenge is to do academic writing. More accurately, to write about ideas within a larger tradition of writing. In many ways, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My natural inclinations run more toward creative nonfiction; much earlier in my life, it was poetry. (I like to say I’ve had some nice publishing experiences and an even lovelier collection of rejections.)

The challenge in so-called academic writing is dual. First is the thinking. My thoughts get going and, I swear, they are like fireflies, and I’m just a girl with a jar in a big dark field. Then there’s the sorting, the detective work: so much of my thinking is based in metaphor and mental image that I seem to spend most of my time figuring out how the pieces, those illusive flashes of light, are connected. Because they always are. The work of my academic training seems to be in tracing the connections, making the whole, crafting it in such a way that others can be with me in the journey.  I suspect this is why Mark Strand’s poem, Keeping Things Whole, is my all-time favorite. I suspect, too, know that this has always been the most challenging aspect of writing for me.

It seems that trust is a big factor in my writing process. I am always awed at how this force moves through me — isn’t that what writing ultimately is– and leaves me chunks that I know are important, essential to the whole. I spent a long time last year writing my second qualifying paper. When I look back at my original freewriting, all the chunks that I ended up using were there. I just didn’t know it. That’s been true for every kind of writing I’ve done (even the stupidness that was advertising/sales promotion). I guess I needed to learn that so-called academic writing is no different. If I think of it as idea writing, I don’t feel like a stranger, an interloper.

I’m really, really lucky to be working with a dissertation advisor who believes dissertations must not be bound by academic convention. My qualifying paper had screen shots of videos and the annotations section was a Google site. One of her students represented his data in the form of a novel. Citations were footnotes, his study participant was the main character. My proposal, my current obsession, has become for me just another writing project. By “just”, I am not minimizing the challenge of of it. Instead, I mean a project no different in process than anything else I’ve worked on long-term. I know how to sit done and work for long stretches. I know the fear-pits that always capture me, the procrastination I can so easily give in to. The demons are always there.

But I can see where I’m going. I’m excited. (OMG– excited about a dissertation proposal?) I am a writer, after all. This is what I do.



One response to “Writing My Life”

  1. “Girl with a jar in a big dark field” — I like that.
    Writing moves through me like a force too, but it’s a mutable force. If I’ve been bearing down too hard on academic writing, the compulsion for a poem or some humor makes itself known. If I’ve been dithering around, not being very productive, some idea almost too big for my brain will demand to be wrestled into a readable form.
    Too much of one thing leads to an urge to do something else. This writing force, at least for me, is a self-governing system, except for when it isn’t.
    Thanks, Karen. See you soon.

    Ps. This is awesome: The spam-check words I’m being required to type are DITIBIT and EMPLOYED.

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