Monday, December 3, 2007

Start Writing

It's so easy to get stuck in a place of not-writing.
"Oh, I have to research more!"
"Oh, I don't know enough!"
Or even just lose track of the effort and time it takes to write, and simply not write because you have not given yourself the time to write.

I was speaking this morning with a client who had been told to keep reading. Now, of course, it goes without saying that as an academic one must have a reasonable command of the material that is out there, of the work done by researchers, of the theories and data published about the subject that interests you. You must be a scholar, beyond any doubt.

But he was telling me how he kept changing his topic and wasn't sure where to start. As long as you keep reading without writing, that's what is doomed to happen. Each new book or article you read carries its own ideas and own vision of what makes good research, and it's easy to string along behind each, slowly shifting from the ideas of one author to another.

When you start to write, you start to commit to your own voice. When you write, you're forced to do more than just absorb the ideas of others. When you write, you're forced make decisions and evaluations about how each author fits into your own work, rather than trying to imagine your own work in the context of each successive author.

Only when you start to write, does your own voice begin to coalesce.
And as you write, you learn. You learn about the structure of your own arguments and their strengths and weaknesses. You learn about them in a way you do not simply sitting and cogitating. It can be very frustrating, because getting those ideas down in words is not easy. Ideas are elusive and they slip out from under your fingers as you put them into the keyboard.
In the end, however, in order to complete your project--whether a thesis, a dissertation or whatever--you must put something on the page. And it's always pleasant when what's on the page seems like a good representation of your ideas.

There's never any guarantee, however, that what you view to be a good representation of ideas will be read by another in the way you intended. But that's another story.

Only by actually writing will that problem arise. To let fear of misunderstanding stop you from writing, is to forgo any chance of being understood. And surely, to the extent that we believe we have something valuable to offer, we all want to be understood.
So start writing.