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September 27, 2011

Free–writing and the creative itch – by Bernie

In the past, I've been known to run screaming from the thought of writing. Some people call this writer's block, I believe, and it's that thing where I have SO MANY WORDS whizzing around in my brain, a deadline looming, and absolutely no idea about how these words can ever make it safely onto paper. It really does feel like a block, actually, and I put it down to my old friend FEAR a lot of the time: fear of the words just being a pile of old rubbish, fear of people not liking what I say... essentially, fear of failure.

Generally, I've found ways around this problem, but they mainly involve being vile to everyone around me for several days (a big sorry to my poor family, here) while I agonise over the mess in my head, and I have to just work through the block in a hugely methodical way - making notes, categorising notes, until the work is completely clear in my mind, and only then can I write. I still shudder when I recall the hellish experience of writing a chapter on the subject of identity theory and its application to leadership development...

The other week, however, I went to a session here at Warwick which dealt with overcoming writer's block. We were given three interesting ways to get words out into the world of paper: listing, clustering, and free-writing.

Listing and clustering were both very popular in the group I was working with that day, but I went straight for free-writing. I know exactly why this was - it gave me the opportunity for a creative moment. One of my biggest fears with writing is to do with producing what I call dead words - words that say stuff, but that nobody really cares about. That dry, academic style of writing that feels like jumping through hoops.

Free-writing, on the other hand, is like someone giving me permission to JUST SAY IT! I gave myself a subject (yes, it really was called 'The problem with writing my thesis'), and then I just let the words spill out from my brain onto a piece of paper. They came out in fully formed sentences, and I found that I was able to really think through the problem in a logical and coherent way. A bit like when you find you can explain your research beautifully in front of your friend and after a couple of glasses of wine... My dad used to call this verbal diarrhoea. But that's another story.

So that's it, now, I'm writing. Often. This new way of getting things onto paper has helped to satisfy the creative itch that had previously been bothering away at me, and which I had been soothing with the story I'm writing. Interestingly, I've never had a block when I've tried to write words for that. And maybe that's the whole point: I needed to add a creativity to my thesis writing that I thought I couldn't have.

The tricky thing now is to make this creativity work in the context of, for example, a methodology chapter. I'd love to be able to write in this reflective way all the time, and build my free-writing moments into something bigger and acceptable, but I remain fearful of the academic world I'm existing on the edge of: one of my supervisors, at least, will struggle to ever accept this as a realistic way to write a PhD. But I think I might just try to wear him down with my creative excitement...


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