Saturday, 28 March 2015

RQ Series: Writing beyond the 'Writers Block'

If this is your idea of what to do during a 'writer's block phase,
good luck! Copyright: Grace Mwaura
You know you are on a tough journey when you go several months without posting anything on your personal blog. The truth is that, I have been writing (and reading, sleeping, eating, exercising etc) all these days, but none of that work gets here...why? They call it #researchethics in the academic circles. I am not in a position to disclose the content of my chapters, least some significant piece of work comes here, and then in my thesis, and I am accused of plagiarism ... or someone else uses it before I can author it! Blablabla...but that's for a fact.However, I will just remind you a few things about the fascinating piece of research I have been doing: It is something to do with my passion for young people, environmental sustainability and agricultural transformation in Africa. Some of the exciting theories I have been revisiting are such as social capital, neoliberal subjectivity, green thoughts, and precarity in contemporary societies. Should I also say that, during this period, I have also acquired some grammar skills such as, you use three dots i.e. ... and not as many as you wish when you want to indicate that some text is missing (that's pretty obvious for you, but I never knew!). 
For this reason, I have not logged into this blog since i last blogged in January. I honestly have been away doing something good to my thesis. The last months, I have been massaging my research data into empirical findings, using a kind of grounded theory, and coming up with what I am telling the academia over here at Oxford is original piece of work from my field. But through this period, I have also been frustrated by the 'writers block' and I have been creatively learning how to overcome it as I needed to meet some tight deadlines. I have written hundreds of thousands of words, only to end up submitting a few tens of thousands to supervisor, and this being cut to the minimum. That's the fact, I am officially on a good writing mode. So good, that I submitted my confirmation of status two weeks ago, and I am still alive in the library basement writing this blog alongside another chapter. Well, right now I am hiding from my chapter to blog this!

But let's go back to the writer's block and how to write beyond it. I hope that this piece of advice will be helpful to those on a writer's block phase. Its pretty annoying not knowing how to express your very own thoughts. You feel you are such a complex being, that you can't construct sentences that make sense enough to be shared with your supervisor. That you can't recall that one word you need to insert before the full stop. Its a #phdcrisis. Earlier this week I was on a skype conversation with an oldie who perhaps completed his doctorate twenty years ago and his advice was 'when you can't write, read, read, read, until you can write something'. True. I give him 5 stars. 
The last two months have perhaps been also read the most. When I could not remember the definition of one single word, I ended up reading for three hours, and from different books and journals. It has been a time of reorganizing my online and physical library. I guess I even motivated the librarian to offer a 'personal' bookshelf at some point....no way, that's a naked joke. When I immersed myself into other people's work, I found new ways of writing, expressing complex ideas, and criticizing other people's work. 
Reading stimulates you to want to write like the author of what you are reading if you agree with them. It motivates you to challenge the author if you disagree, by writing back to the author hence, you find yourself going back to writing. And where the author is inadequate, you feel that you can write something to advance their work...so you write again! 
It can sound as easy and that, but sometimes reading can extend for days, so be keen on how you should read before you can go back to writing, especially if you are working under tight deadlines as I am. Sometimes its just taking time off your screen and talking to others about that piece of work that you can't write. They might mention one word that you needed to join the dots. It is perhaps that your body is tired and needs some exercise. In short, try as much as possible to balance your life even as you 'write in a hectic zone'- eat well, sleep well*, exercise, talk less, read relatively more, and spend more time playing around with your writing skills.

 *'sleep well' is relative, but you must 'sleep enough' .... I will tell you next time why this is so.






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