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Week 3: Learning about your writing style

So this week was a bit of struggle.

Submitting an article last week seemed to take the wind out of my sails and some of my drive and focus has gone. In fact I have booked a holiday for next week! I'd been telling myself I would go on holiday since the beginning of July whenever the weather got good in Scotland... for more than 2 days... which has not happened... and it is good that I am taking a break before the semester kicks off, but it also makes me feel a bit unambitious with writing.

Writing was a struggle because I kept trying to do Goodson's generative writing exercise (e.g. so that you are not mixing up writing new words with editing)(see post on Week 1) and I realised more and more that I do not ever really write that way. I really really like sentence skeletons and finding great phrases in other articles and adapting them to my own topic. In the past I had worried this was a plagiarism of sorts, even though you're taking parts of others sentences and not their idea (i.e. phrasing not content). Sometime this way of writing felt like cheating until I read Pat Thomson's blog post on how sentence skeletons can help you learn academic etiquette because this gave me a vocabulary to understand that that is what I was doing.

I had spoken to a few colleagues about how they write this week and discovered they generally wrote in this generative way and thus Exercise 3 is a norm and not a challenge for them. I think this really unsettled me, it is as if I do not trust my own voice and instead search around for others that I believe can say it better. Partly with this in mind I switched off from my paper after spending Monday reading rather than writing and used Tuesday and Wednesday to write my module handbook. This still involved quite a bit of opportunity for generative writing, and I enjoyed this work, but it did feel a bit like procrastination from my 'actual writing' and research.

On Thursday I had my writing group and we were both interested in writing an introduction and my colleague suggested that we jump ahead in Goodson's book (why hadn't I thought of that!!) to Exercise 29 on brainstorming. Of course brainstorming is an obvious tool in any writer's arsenal, yet I had not done this sort of activity in a while. It worked an absolute treat after days of struggling with the introduction: 15 minutes to try to note down all the points you might want covered in a section, then linking them and organising this into narrative/flow of argument. I followed this up with Exercise 30 today: another 15 minute timer, 'dumping' writing down around the headings produced in the previous exercise. I did 5 sets of Exercise 30 today and had a 'shitty first draft' (thanks Anne Lamott for that perfect description) of my literature review. This wasn't done in my usual way, that would already have quite nicely polished sentences and references, but it does provide an argument from my analysis of the literature and key debates/bodies of scholarship. I'll be curious to see how quickly/easily I can turn this into a polished piece when I return.

Finally, after all this rambling I want to end on the real insight I had this week about my writing style/habits. I was also able to follow the generative writing approach when given a structure or process to follow (Exercises 29 & 30). This is what I did over and over in my PhD, whatever section I was writing I generally went and read advice (usually Pat Thomson's blog) for what should be in that section, how to start, what to think about including, etc. Really that sort of advice is similar to using sentence skeletons but it doesn't mean that I don't trust my 'voice,' it's more that I like/need/appreciate some direction to get my started. And it is funny to realised that I have been writing this way for nearly 20 years when I recall that my first publication was a poem that began 'Twas the night before Thanksgiving'...

It's hard to get away from your normal ways of writing and I'd be curious to hear if others like sentence skeletons and prompts as much as I do. I had worried that I was relying on them too much and I wonder if others have had this same concern.

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