On the first day of all my classes, I tell my students that I hate to write. They stare at me, anxiously check their schedules to make sure they are in the correct classroom, and maybe a few pull up the online registration site to see if there are any open spaces in another class section with a “real” writing instructor. I tell my students this because so many of them arrive in my class damaged from years of being told that they are poor writers, or writing for them is a torturous experience which they take as a personal, moral failing that contributes to their identity as a “bad writer.” Breaking down conceptions about what writing is, how it is done, what it feels like, and who students are as writers is an ongoing process, one that we can only begin to work through in a relatively short fifteen weeks. I share my story because I want my students to know that we’re in this together; we’re all constantly learning about how to write, and maybe, hopefully, how to write well.
As someone who hates to write yet who teaches and researches writing and is generally considered a “good” writer, I’ve thought about why I dislike writing so. Generally it boils down to the inefficiency of my writing process and my own difficulty articulating my thoughts and voice in academic text. I have no problem writing a blog post, but writing an academic article or my dissertation is an exercise in inventing the university. I’ve noticed this especially as I work on my dissertation. I’ve been feeling bored as I’ve been writing up my findings from coding College Composition and Communication for the term “community”. The topic itself doesn’t bore me; when talking to my writing group, advisor, or really anyone who will listen, I get fired up about the issue and my findings, and (I think) I convey this passion about why this matters to my audience. I’m not finding that same passion as I write the text version.
So what does an academic do when she recognizes a problem? Research it! So I put out a call to Twitter and asked folks for their recommendations for readings about writing, specifically long projects. And as always, the amazing professional learning network on Twitter responded.Thanks to everyone for their suggestions! Here are the resources (both the people and the texts!):
- On Writing by Stephen King– KT Torrey @catchclaw
- Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, & Joseph Williams– Lara Dodds @LaraDodds
- Elements of Academic Style by Eric Hayot– Lara Dodds @LaraDodds
- Helping Doctoral Studies Write by Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson– Rosey Chang @RoseyChang
- Authoring a PhD by Patrick Dunleavy — Rosey Chang @RoseyChang
- How to Write a Thesis by Rowena Murray — Rosey Chang @RoseyChang
- Many writing resources on Krysia Canvin’s scoop.it page — Krysia Canvin @kyrsiacanvin
- Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker– Krysia Canvin @kyrsiacanvin
- Writing to Learn by William Zinsser– Agile @nimblel
- Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers — Academic Souffle @AcademicSouffle
- Sense of Style by Steven Pinker — Academic Souffle @AcademicSouffle
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser– me (Kaitlin Clinnin) @kclinnin
- How to Write a Lot by Paul Silvia– me @kclinnin
- Line by Line by Claire Kehrwald Cook– me @kclinnin
I’m going to check out these resources and blog about my findings and progress. Just from the cursory glance at Amazon descriptions, it seems that most of these books address either how to write or how to write well. It will be interesting to see what advice is repeated, what sticks, and what just seems out there. As with all writing, the strategies may work for certain circumstances or individuals better than others, and a successful writing strategy will require practice and adaptation.