My writing self – SWOT analysis

Murray, R. (2013) Writing for Academic Journals. Open University Press.

I found myself doing a little SWOT analysis of my ‘writing self’ while working through the first chapter of Murray’s very readable book:

Okay – so, some good stuff here. First of all, I genuinely love writing and it is an intrinsic, established aspect of my life (although I have lost focus over the last few weeks). I can usually write easily at home despite sharing a one-bedroom flat with a double bassist, two cats and – since Monday – a puppy. In fact I find it easier to focus when Brendan’s around as I don’t dick about so much when I’m being watched…! Brendan likes to have music on at home, but I don’t mind wearing earplugs. Writing this has reminded me that I’ve run out, so I’ve just ordered a bumper pack.

Like many people, I find it hard to sit down and focus on my work while there is still housework to be done. Rather than just try to ‘get over’ this, I now have a cleaner visit every week. Also, having a puppy means we can’t just leave things lying around, so there is an additional motivation to tidy up as we go along. Provided the flat is reasonably clean and tidy, it doesn’t take me any time at all to get started writing, and I often find myself at the ease/enjoyment/creativity end of the spectrum fairly quickly. I don’t have any anxiety about exposing my writing to an audience, other than at a level that helps me to articulate what I mean.

At the very beginning of my academic career I had a small flurry of publications; as I explained in my previous post this was prompted by playing catch-up after several years of false starts. Now I am financially independent and in a job that fits me really well, the motivation to publish and ‘get on’ in my career is not so pressing. I may be a little too comfortable.

Second, my response to criticism could be more balanced. Typically I am too defensive at first, and then I start to take the points on board – sometimes focusing on them too much. I’m sure I’m no worse or better at taking criticism than anyone else! However, I’m currently reading (on and off, along with everything else) a book called ‘how to accept yourself’, which is giving me some useful insights.

Third – I have little experience of effective collaborative writing. I don’t want to say I’m bad at it (yet), but I find it hard to relinquish control in most areas of my life, and writing is no exception.

I work with a super team of people at UAL who are passionate about the scholarship of teaching and learning. They are potentially a rich source of encouragement and feedback, and my colleague Nicholas has initiated a pedagogic reading group which I have said I will join. I also have some close friends with similar academic interests who are great to bounce ideas off.  The EdD group – especially Rebecca and Jon – are fantastic discussion partners.

My line manager is very supportive of my EdD (she is in the latter stages of her own), and is very keen for me to start scheduling EdD study and writing into my working week. Our Dean of Learning, Teaching & Enhancement gives me a lot of encouragement and has just invited me to be a reviewer for a journal she is involved with. This is a great opportunity for me; having not formally studied creative subjects myself – despite working with creative educators for five years – I have lacked confidence to join the conversation about Art & Design education until now.

Over the last few weeks I have lost focus. I couldn’t attend the second EdD workshop day in October and then everything kind of fell off the radar because of one simple thing – I didn’t write a study schedule with specific reading and writing periods in my calendar. During my first year I did this on a fortnightly basis. Why did I stop? Perhaps I was overconfident that all would be well. I went a bit trigger-happy on Amazon last month and bought about ten books, which I’ve dipped into, but not in a focused way. Perhaps I just got distracted – I often do this time of year; I feel overstretched by looking after all my new students (almost to the point of meltdown this year), and I look for other things to obsess about in an attempt to find some sort of balance.

The cutest threat ever...?

The cutest threat ever…?

One long-standing ‘coping’ obsession has been exercise, but now I have a new one; wholefood cookery. It takes a lot of time and organisation. Why am I making life difficult for myself? Well, it’s fun and rewarding, and I genuinely believe that I feel healthier, have more energy and am sleeping better. It has turned out to be a significant threat to my writing; instead of getting up early on a Saturday to read & write, I’ve been getting up to bake flaxseed bread and make my own yoghurt. But a necessary one I think, given my core values and beliefs. Another new threat arrived on Monday in the form of a black cocker spaniel pup called Indy. Indy is – we hope – a sign that we are growing up; that we are ready for a less hedonistic lifestyle. But raising him correctly will take our time and attention. Right now he’s sitting very patiently under the desk, on my feet.

The EdD is providing a structure and an impetus for me to write for publication. I am going to reinstate my study schedule today. This will help me to prioritise reading and writing at certain times.

I have printed out calendars for home for the next two months and will sit down with Brendan today to plan my studying around other aspects of our lives to make sure everything has a place.

After Saturday’s workshop, I will start incorporating reading/writing time into my UAL calendar.

With the wholefood cookery… I may have to compromise a little. I think the schedule is key – stick to that and the rest will follow…!

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