By Claire Aitchison
Doctoral scholars, their supervisors and academics in general, all have intimate relations with writing. It’s our everyday world. Like any intimate relationship, this liaison has its ups and downs: there are times of love and hate, joy and bitterness, times when we resent writing and other times when it brings us comfort and delight. Who hasn’t known what it’s like to fight and wrangle with writing late at night, exhausted, and wishing to cut the ties and run away forever?!
In this post – at the end of Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) – I use metaphors to explore some of my relationships with writing.
Writing as tranceWriting can put me into a trance-like state so that I am totally unaware of the rest of the world. When I am deep in writing I am in an altered frame of mind, detached from time and space. My physical presence is irrelevant – I don’t feel hunger, I don’t realise that I haven’t moved for hours on end. Whole days can go by unnoticed as I am completely absorbed, as if under a hypnotic spell. In these times, writing is the master and my attachment is singular, complete and involuntary. While I love Writing as trance I am not sure it is wholly healthy, certainly not for extended periods.
Writing as meditation
When writing is meditative, it is mindfulness in the extreme. Unlike Writing as trance this relationship is more intentional and controlled. I am managing this relationship. It feels healthy. Like Writing as trance, I get into the zone, and am all-consumed. I give writing my full attention, but it is my friend rather than my master; I can enter and leave at any time. After spending time in this writing space I feel calm and positive. Like mindfulness meditation, this relationship benefits from regular practice, and the more I do it, the better it gets.
Writing as escape
Sometimes writing is my ticket of leave from the drudgery and disappointments of work and life. Much of our daily writing is perfunctory: administrative, managerial and functional. Academic life should, but rarely does, allow much time for the kind of self-directed writing that characterises doctoral study. But even there, sometimes, one is tempted to avoid the real (often more challenging) writing that beckons. When writing is an escape, it is intentionally short-lived, perhaps even a tad illicit in the pleasure it brings. Like a small holiday in the country, a nap on the couch, or a day at the beach – or the wickedness of taking a ‘sickie’ on the spur of the moment – this relationship with writing is exciting and revitalizing.
Writing as therapy
Writing as therapy is healing; it is a special time for me. It is private and unhurried, a close, often transformational relationship through which I learn about myself as much as my subject. While Writing as therapy can be writing that gets published, in its origins, it is not for an audience; it is for self and for meaning-making. This relationship is cathartic – free and unfettered, unpredictable. Sometimes this relationship can go to dark places, but when it is truly therapeutic it returns to wellness, even after despondency.
This is an energising relationship, full of spark and invention. It is perhaps my favourite relationship with writing. It is one of the most important (if not elusive) writing relationships for doctoral researchers, and yet it isn’t encouraged often enough for fear that it may wreak havoc, threaten supervisors and scare off examiners. Writing as creativity needs to be handled with care – when this relationship is working well, it is extremely powerful and rewarding, but unfettered, it can lead one astray. However, Writing as creativity isn’t always readily available; sometimes it hides away, stubbornly refusing to come and play, instead leaving me alone with a blank page fearful that the relationship is over for good. The prolonged absence of Writing as creativity can be a scary place.
Writing as solace
This relationship is easy-going, wholesome and soothing. It is my friend and restorative comforter. Like putting on an old pair of shoes or warm coat, one can go a long way with Writing as solace. This relationship is built on familiarity, old habits drive it: the cup of tea, the trusted tools of the craft; the computer, desk, pen and paper that work together in perfect and practised harmony.
Metaphors about writing proliferate because writers enjoy the pleasure of testing out ideas in abstract ways in order to understand complex ideas and connections. We’d be pleased to hear of metaphors that describe your relationships with writing.
But before ending, I recommend Ted Hughes’ beautiful poem The Thought Fox about the struggle with writing and the intensity of experience.
(Images: ‘Whirling dervishes’ Turkishheritagetravel.co; and from Pixabay CC licence: ‘Painter’ and ‘Tigerie’)