Less than 10 days ago, I was faced with an unusual problem, one of those which they say are good problems to have. I found I’d reached the point in my process of development where I had to choose between the perspective held over from a past life along with the skills honed therein, where I was an acknowledged expert comfortable with my competence, and the novice’s need for practice and fluency in the skills and capacities for my current role in life. I chose the future.
After taking the conscious decision to focus on improving my skills and fluency in writing in the academic style, I’ve begun preparations for writing a contribution for an important research conference based on the empirical data gathered during the remote resilience project completed last year. There are easy ones that one can cherry pick and write a few thousand words without pause, more or less. Then, there are the more challenging themes, that ask you to work for them, both with the data as well as with the literature. In this process, begun earlier in the spring of this year, I have discovered a few things about the way I approach academic writing.
When a theme feels challenging, I do the literature review and save the relevant articles in a folder but put it aside “for the future, when I’m feeling more competent to handle it”. Then, just over a month ago, I was forced to dive into the folder and begin work on the topic I’d deemed the most challenging assignment. I wrote, and rewrote. I was able to get an early review and feedback from a scholar. I rewrote it again from scratch. And now, I’ve sent it to my professor to look at and expect another round of rewriting before submitting it for publication – who knows what reviewer 2 will ask for?
What I discovered during this process was that I have come to really enjoy the writing although the learning curve was steep and there were days when I felt I’d never get the hang of making the argumentation. There are drafts saved on this blog – the format is familiar and comfortable for thinking out loud – that I’ll never publish because they contain chunks of my article. I’m nowhere near an expert yet but I am definitely developing a feeling of competence that I did not have before, and in the process, I’ve learnt not to be afraid of sounding like an idiot.
In a way, it is no different from the synthesis of vast amounts of data from a variety of sources that I used to sit with and distill into crystallized form, after what would always feel like a painful process of sensemaking, no matter how many times I did it, and how often I returned to the same themes in my professional projects.
I am discovering that I must not let go completely of the lessons from the old way of doing and making, but figure out how to transfer subjective aspects of my sense of competency and expertise from the past to the future, to provide a bridge for accelerating through the process of experiencing the inadequacies and insecurities of an unpracticed novice. There is no benefit in completely devolving the legacy of one’s own experiences even when disrupting oneself in the present moment. The past can inform the future.