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’
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:
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?