The struggle of trying to write

I’ve been struggling with my writing for a while now. Although my blogging varies quite a lot depending on how busy I am, I usually average five to six blog posts a month. So far this year, I’ve only averaged two a month.

I feel like I go into thick mode when I sit down to write. It’s the classic sense of not having the necessary ability, being distracted, and experiencing raging self-doubt. I really don’t feel like I’m a great writer. I’m pretty good at summarising concepts and writing reports, but I really struggle with storytelling or introducing a creative element in my writing.

The real barrier, however, is a sense of unworthiness and inadequacy. What do I really have to say? Who am I to say it? And this is coming from a position of privilege as a white, well-educated, middle class male who has essentially cruised through life. Actually, this is one of the things that undermines my confidence. Do we really need to hear from another white, well-educated, middle class male?

In many ways I still think of myself as more of a practitioner than an academic. I don’t sit comfortably in the world of theory and struggle to contribute to theoretical debate. At the same time, besides my work with the Alternatives to Violence Project and, to a lesser extent Transition Newcastle, it’s been 10 years since I was a family/community worker, so I’m not really a practitioner any more.

Much of my work as an academic has been teaching or working with family and community services around practice. I have done little of what is considered real research, so when I write for academic journals I’m not discussing research but rather reflecting on what I have learnt through a recent project. I’m essentially trying to present my work as research when it is more critical reflection. I actually think there is real value in this type of critical reflection, but it generally isn’t what academic journals are looking for.

But it is also often critical reflection on the work of others, not even my own work. It is what I am learning from others. Again, this can be valuable reflection, but it isn’t what academic journals are usually looking for.

I sometimes fear that, eventually, I’m going to be caught out as a fraud. I will be seen as not having had a stellar career as a community worker, and that I wasn’t all that good at implementing what I talk about as good practice. People will realise that when I talk about Transition Newcastle, while I do help with planning, communicating and keeping the organisation running, most of the actual work is done by Cathy (my partner). Look at the Kids Vegies the Verge. I wrote about it, but it was clearly Cathy who was the main person who made it happen. (And anyway, it really didn’t last all that long. Possibly it served its purpose of helping the kids get to know each other a bit better and then died a natural death.)

When I write for the blog, I wish I could be less dry, write in a more engaging  fashion and tell stories that draw the reader in. But sometimes when I want to tell stories, they are about other people or other organisations, and I don’t have the right to tell their story or to critique their work.

When I do make the time to write, I find the actual mechanics of writing challenging. I struggle to decide on a voice, I can’t find the right words, I get bogged down in finding a reference to support my argument, I’m unsure of what I’m really trying to say. Rather than facing the challenges, all too often I allow myself to be distracted. There are too many things I could be doing instead – some of which are even important. I have students who are paying around $1148 to study one of the undergraduate subjects and over $2000 for one of the postgraduate subjects I teach, so I feel a real sense of responsibility to provide them with a quality experience. I have to work on the latest project an organisation has contracted me to do (which doesn’t generally include funds for writing about it) because my position is unfunded so if I don’t generate income I’m out of work.

Right now, I’m feeling it is time to get some breakfast. I’ve come to one of those moments in my writing where I’m wondering: What am I really saying? I don’t want it to be, “Poor me, send me some positive feedback about what a great job I’m doing.” An there are already much better written accounts of how challenging writing can be (e.g., Astronauts get writer’s block, too: An interview with Scott Kelly), writers block (e.g., Coming up blank: the science of writer’s block) or the struggles of academic writing (e.g., A letter to my younger self about dealing with rejection in academia).

So what do I have to offer in this post?

To be honest, I don’t know. I’m writing to help overcome what is a growing fear of writing and to help make the blog more active again. And I’m writing because it can help me clarify my thinking and to acknowledge my fears and insecurities.

If there is value for other people it might be in knowing they are not alone. It might help somebody recognise some of their own insecurities or fears.  It might help somebody have a more realistic assessment of me as a blogger, academic or a person. It might lead somebody to one of the interesting articles I’ve linked to above, or maybe they will find something of interest elsewhere in the blog.

My main hope is that it will help me move on and start showing the discipline, courage and strength needed to be a writer.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Blogging as an academic
  2. 7 principles guiding my work
  3. About me
  4. My background in peace and environment groups
  5. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  6. How (and why) I joined the Transition movement

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Being an academic, Personal and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The struggle of trying to write

  1. dave2718 says:

    Thinking about my own profession (applied statistics), I think there is real value in reflections of practitioners. The messy space between theory and informed practice is where we live our professional lives, and the theory will only advance by honest (and courageous) investigation of that gap.
    A personal theory: in a Venn diagram of professional problems, fear of being called out is in the overlap between wisdom and humility.
    Thanks for the post, Graeme it was a corker.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. colin Hopkirk says:

    Sorry, I forgot to ‘own’ that last one. best wishes



  3. Anonymous says:

    Go easy on yourself mate. We can’t be good at everything – and your posts are good at pointing clearly at stuff that other folks have been doing -so don’t fret about being inclusive etc – you are being. Crack on.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Judi Geggie says:

    Well done Graeme. I would think you certainly have provided many people with the feeling that they are not alone. The bridge between research and practice is vital and a hard but it is important for someone to stand with one foot on each side. The challenge of living in that space will not go away but know that without people being in that space the gap between research and practice will lengthen.
    Thanks for your honesty and courage.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lesley says:

    You are really being terribly hard on yourself. I’m the opposite..Good at telling the story but have difficulty summarising. Discover what you’re good at and build on that.


  6. Marie Stuart says:

    Wow Graeme
    This is such an insightful self reflection that had me ponder and self reflect. My lack of confidence is fueled by the beauty and ease others can write. The skill and power of writing is a gift that is admired and valued. I look forward to your blogs and the way you challenge my brain. Reading this reminded me of my presentation this week in which I shared the work of Peggy Macintosh – Unpacking the knapsack of white privilege. Do we unpack our knapsack often enough? Thank you for this provocation.
    Keep writing …….

    Liked by 1 person

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