Session 1: Writing about pebbles, pebbles, pebbles

The first session of our writing group began with an exercise where we were asked to do some free writing. We all held in our hand a pebble from Brighton beach and we were asked to write continuously for 5 minutes. And this is what I (Emily) wrote:

‘Cold, slippery. Oh shit I’m going to slip over. Will I slip over or slip up? Slipping, squeaking, knocking together. Writing knocking up against life/work – when is there space for writing? Writing about what? Just bloody write about the pebble. A pebble is perfectly soft but perfectly imperfect. Babies cheeks, kissable but also lumpy, misshapen, unique. New beginnings. This is me. Slipping between academic/mum/student/daughter/friend/wife – who the fuck am I anyway? Slipping can be wild, fun, uncertain, terrifying. Where will I slip next? What will I write next? A book? Who’d want to read that? Books about writing about books about writing. Back to the pebble. It looks a bit like a potato. Knobbly. Discarded at the bottom of the vegetable drawer – but peel off the skin and there’s potential, new life, soft and squishy. Writing about pebbles, pebbles, pebbles’


flickr photo by NATT-at-NKM  shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The purpose of the activity was to open up our minds and our writing and to see what possibilities emerged. This led to a really powerful discussion about writing as a process of making meaning and making connections.

What can writing about pebbles do? When I read back what I’ve written, it tells me something substantive about how I am feeling about becoming a new academic, after the first 3 days in the job! But it also conceptually, in being achingly (almost cringeworthy-ly) personal, it shows how writing is a process of self-exposure – of opening our selves and our words up to judgement. And it is this ‘fear’ or ‘shame’ of exposure that emerged in our discussions as a common barrier in stopping us putting pen to paper. Processes of self-sabotage, of ‘who I am to write anyway’ force us to consider not just our own identities but how the figure of the academic writer as detached, perfect, neutral – is one few of us identified with. Participants in the group spoke of a distance between the pleasure (or discomfort in the frivolous act of) writing about our pebbles and the (sometimes) difficult painful process of ‘proper’ academic writing.

What we hope to do in following sessions is explore the notions of academic voice and legitimacy and to think practically about strategies (just like the pebble) for overcoming writing barriers and freeing our minds to write academically (as well as more reflectively).

Please feel free below to comment on what you thought about the session and the writing (and the thinking about writing) it enabled you to produce.


The article to read for next week is:

Richardson, L (2001). Getting personal: Writing-stories. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 14 (1) pp. 33-38.

If you find it helpful, you can frame your thinking around the question:

What of ‘Me’ do I bring to my doctoral research writing: consciously; less consciously; deliberately; surprisingly; not at all? Why? How? To what effect?


3 thoughts on “Session 1: Writing about pebbles, pebbles, pebbles

  1. rebwebb50 says:

    What a wonderful opening to new possibilities in our writing Emily. Thank-you!

    I’ve just looked back at my scribbles from our opening session. These are barely legible because I felt so anxious about introducing this first workshop. The weight of the pebble in my hand was as nothing to the heaviness of my sense of responsibility for a successful ‘opening up’ of this writerly space.

    In my free writing I start by noticing the way in which my hand will not allow me to write because of my nerves:
    ‘I have been turning over the pebble in my left hand for several minutes now and I feel empty. I have nothing to say. This exercise does – in fact – despite my entreaty to the group to rouse those connections between cognition and affect – feel utterly devoid of all meaning….’ I do manage to move on, however, through a reliance on repetitions and inane twaddle. This is sufficient to notice in my writing the juxtaposition of the solidity of the stone with the fragility of my sense of self in those moments.

    Looking back over this now reminds me of the extent to which writing is a highly affective process. It seems to me that any denial of this can indeed generate the barriers to writing that we so wish to overcome. Staying with my anxiety and continuing to write did indeed, in the end, produce ‘something’….

    We have to ”stick with it” and duck and dive those resistant barriers. At the same time, we should be kind enough that we allow ourselves to say very little before something that we are really able to declare can come tumbling out….



    • rebwebb50 says:

      Hi Zurina
      That just goes to show that I don’t write as clearly as I would like to believe Zurina. I will introduce you to ‘the pebble’ idea when I see you at the next workshop. Indeed, I will bring along one of my favourite pebbles. Hope you enjoy the peer session tomorrow and see you next week.


  2. kzphdjourney says:

    Hello Emily and Rebecca,
    Thanks for sharing this. I’ll try the free writing on pebbles. And sorry for only reading this now!

    You mentioned in this post ‘to think practically about strategies (just like the pebble) for overcoming writing barriers… I was wondering if you could explain what you mean by strategies and referring it to the pebbles? Does it mean the strategies I employed when I face barriers?

    How I wished I know about this workshop earlier..


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