Tweet, blog or dissertate? On being a writer.

Good evening, ladies and gentleman. My name is Orson Welles. I am an actor. I am a writer. I am a producer. I am a director. I am a magician. I appear onstage and on the radio. Why are there so many of me and so few of you? ~ Orson Welles

book, by @debsnet

Our splintered, kaleidoscopic identities are wonderfully expressed by Orson Welles in the above quotation. Mine include writer, reader, researcher, teacher, leader, learner, mother, partner.

Do you feel like a writer? Does blogging make you a writer? Does micro-blogging? Does being a researcher automatically make you a writer? Professor Pat Thomson has written about ‘being writerly’ and practices which help you to see yourself as a writer. I tried to channel my writerly self in my 2015 – the year of writing dangerously post. I suppose this post is more about Pat’s idea of ‘being writerly‘ rather than ‘being a writer’. If you feel and behave like a writer does that make you one?

From micro to macro, this post focuses on how I use and interact with writing, including writing for purpose and audience. I wonder, are there different keystrokes (or pencil scribblings) that work for different folks? While I’m sure some people prefer tweeting or blogging, or article writing, or putting together a visual or numerical representations of their understanding (interpretative dance, anyone?), I think each platform and tool depends on our purpose for writing and audience to whom and for whom we are writing; each has its usefulness.

Below, I reflect on the platforms and tools I engage with, and what I get out of each.

Tweeting as a writing practice

I find that Tweeting, especially in a Twitter chat, is a kind of speed writing and speed thinking. Graham Wegner recently reflected that a busy Twitter chat can feel like a stampede of groupthinking sheep. Yet it is the torrential speed of Twitter chat tweets that sometimes helps me to clarify my ideas. Being pressured to aphoristically express an idea or viewpoint in a 140-character nutshell often forces me to distil and crystallise my thinking down into its essence, without agonising over it. I have previously called micro-blogging ‘therapy for the verbose’ as it is the antidote to my tendency to say things using too many words. Even my PhD thesis is over its word limit and will need trimming, streamlining and distilling. I have found Tweeting is a writing medium that helps me to most succinctly channel my thinking and keep tangents at bay.

That said, I also like the potentially tangential nature of Twitter chats. Rather than having a fear of missing what’s been said as the tweets roar by, I tend to engage with what I can, and with what peaks my interest. This often means that I spend much of a Twitter chat off to the side in a peripheral discussion, but I tend to prefer this kind of more extended conversation to the one-liner answers to a series of questions. That’s why I like the format of broader chats like #sunchat which work with one question for the hour and allow the conversation to take organic shape depending on the participants. Without the interruptions of regular questions, conversations can be deeper.

Blogging as a writing practice

As I discussed here, blogging has been personally transformative and about global collaboration. I am relatively new to blogging, having started this blog less than a year ago. In that I time I have published 55 posts on my blog, which has been viewed more than 10,000 times in more than 80 countries. Wow! I know that these numbers don’t compare with the superstar bloggers out there, but I am surprised and delighted to have a readership, and more than that, people to whom I’ve connected as a result of my writing, their reading, and our subsequent online, face to face, and voice to voice, conversations.

More than that, blogging has allowed me to take my thinking further than micro-blogging will allow, but more freely and conversationally than academic writing. For instance, I find Twitter a difficult platform to discuss issues of ethics, equity and social justice. Sometimes the subject seems too big for the platform. Some of my blog posts have emerged out of conversations on Twitter in which I have felt too restricted by space to say what I want to say; in these instances a blog can provide the complexity of thought, especially around tricky or contentious issues, which can be lost in the pithy-one-liner nature of tweeting.

PhDing and other academic writing

My PhD is a different writing beast all together, a 300 page monstrosity of a work which I am currently whittling, sculpting and (re)building into a cohesive document. The PhD can feel like a gigantic quilt which threatens to suffocate its maker; it is beautiful, creative, borrowing fabrics and threads from elsewhere while creating something new. The threads of reading and writing overlay and weave together in complex ways which have to come together in a holistic totality, while also working at the level of the small square, each vignette perfectly stitched, formed and embellished.

I recently popped my 110,000 word thesis draft into wordle.net, a website which takes text and distils it down to a visual representation of its most frequently used words. It looked like this:

my thesis wordle

my thesis wordle

I did this to see if my key themes emerged, but was subsequently more interested by words I did not expect to see there: “rather”, “just”, “really” and “something”. This led to an edit of my thesis looking for these words. I discovered that most of them were to be found in my participants’ language, but I did find that many of the “something”s belonged to me, and proceeded to weed them out of the document, replacing them with more precise or concise language. So, even turning words into a visual turned me back into my writing with a new understanding.

Academic writing such as abstracts, journals, conference papers and even the Three Minute Thesis, are others forms again. They require more laser-like focus than the big PhD book, and a clarity of structure and point. While trying to write smaller, more focused texts from the PhD can be a challenge, it is a good exercise in refining and clarifying thinking, while finding different ways to communicate important ideas.

Each of these writing platforms encourages different thinking and writing practices. Writing for different purposes and audiences allows us to layer, appliqué and augment our wordsmithery and our ways of communicating to others and to ourselves.

Every secret to a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works. ~ Virginia Woolf

Writing, by @debsnet

2015: The Year of Writing Boldly, Abundantly & Dangerously

 

Writing Dangerously by @debsnet

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good. ~ William Faulkner

For me, 2014 has been a year of writing thoughtfully, reflectively and introspectively.

As always I have been writing unit plans, assessments and resources for my students. I have been writing 140 character tweets, and participating more and more in education Twitter chats (such as #satchat #sunchat #aussieED #whatisschool and #BFC530). I have started a blog in which I have been experimenting with voice and purpose. I have been writing my PhD, which is currently at almost 80,000 words. As part of my PhD I have written a self-study chapter in which I reflect on myself as learner, educator and leader.

2015 will be my year of writing abundantly, boldly and dangerously.

Writing abundantly

In 2015 I will need to write abundantly. I will need to write words and words of thesis. I will need to pen some papers on my research. I will need to write applications and abstracts for education and research conference presentations. I will write blog posts. I will write tweets.

Each form of writing is a different kind of therapy. I am prone to over-wordiness (I love words!), to verbosity, to an inability to be concise. Thankfully, Twitter is therapy for the verbose. To distil thoughts into 140 character bites is to crystallise thinking down to its essence. I am never more concise than when I tweet. Blogging allows personal exploration of ideas in an informal space. My blog is where I can explore ideas in greater depth than a tweet, but in more informal ways than in academic writing. My thesis is the place where I get to burrow into challenging writing problems and thrash around, working hard until I break through and find a solution. The PhD is writing friend and nemesis, a beast I have to wrestle into its cave, clay I have to mould into its form (or is that stone I have to hack at until it takes shape?).

And the more I write, the more my writerly-self expands and transforms, like a shape shifter, always taking new forms in organic, non-linear ways. I am a hybrid writing being who writes as educator, school leader, researcher and bloggess. 2015 lays the challenge of balancing these overlapping writing selves.

Writing boldly

I will need to be bold in my writing in 2015.

I will need to be boldly honest, self-reflective, self-revealing and authentically-voiced in my blog posts, and in the conversations which bloom from those. I will need to be willing to disagree in Twitter conversations, in order to promote robust discussion instead of an inward-looking echo chamber of the same voices saying the same things.

In my third (and hopefully final) year of my PhD study I will need to be self-assured in discussing the contribution of my work. I will need to be confident in communicating in my own academic voice.

Yet in my boldness I will need to be sensitive to ethical issues such as how to tell others’ stories while protecting their anonymity and the authenticity of their words. Part of the reason I choose to blog and tweet under a pseudonomic identity is to protect my research participants. So boldness needs to be tempered with thoughtfulness.

Writing dangerously

Language is power. Words are tools. As a teacher of English and Literature part of my job is to help students to understand how language works (functionally, socially and globally), and help them to develop the capability to use its power to communicate, share, converse, discuss, disagree and disrupt.

Writing can be dangerous. It can be disruptive. It can be transformational for writer and reader. It can change individuals, groups, organisations and the world.

2015 is the year for all researchers, bloggers, tweeters and writers (or ‘those who write’, but don’t think of themselves as ‘writers’ as Pat Thomson explains in this post) to write fearlessly and compassionately, abundantly and concisely, reflectively and dangerously. I’m going to give it my best shot.

Happy writing!

A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing. ~ Eugene Ionesco

write fearlessly by @debsnet