It’s one thing to say “I’m going to post to my blog once a week.” And it’s something different to actually post things. It’s one thing to want to write. It’s something very different to actually write. A general intention may maintain a project, but specifics are necessary for any manifestation of the project.
When I think “I’m going to blog regularly,” it’s easy to feel that I have a lot to say. But as I sit down to write this specific post, it’s difficult to figure out what to say.
The problem that I’m struggling with is one that I think many people face when trying to write, and I think that many people in a similar situation might tell themselves that they have nothing to say. The real problem, I think, is actually having too much to say.
As I write that, I’m remembering an anecdote on this point from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The narrator is relating an experience as a writing teacher in which one of his students was asked to write about a place and failed to produce. Asked to write about more a specific location, the student failed to produce. But when she decided to write about a single brick in a single building, the student produced far more writing than required.
Right now, I have many ideas for potential blog posts. None of those ideas are fully formed. As a result, when I start to put words on the page, I become more aware of the limitations and difficulties of writing about a specific idea. That awareness of limitations and difficulties can lead to thinking “I have nothing really worth saying,” or to trying to work on some other idea.
This can be a crucial moment in the process, and I think that a lot of writer’s get stuck at that moment. This is where the blank or almost-blank page can become a terror. Personally, I don’t struggle with those particular difficulties too much, but I do get stuck at the beginning of projects trying to decide what I will write and choosing amongst possibilities.
I’ve chosen this post to be about focus because I want to have a sense of focus for the blog and for the post, but that was one possibility amongst many.
An ongoing challenge as I write, is to avoid the temptation of the road not taken. I have ideas about focus, but as I try to turn those ideas into a coherent, convincing, and interesting series of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraph, difficulties arise. As I become aware of those difficulties, there is a temptation to say “another road would be easier—writing about another topic would be easier.” But that temptation is based on a false premise: the other topic seems easier because I haven’t tried to actually write about it yet.
Focusing on a specific task, and staying with it to a sort of completion is crucial. With a blog post, staying focused is pretty easy, because the blog post doesn’t take that long to write. Whatever I write today, I can write something different tomorrow or next week. But longer works challenge that focus: over weeks or months the temptation to change focus continues, and grows with every new obstacle that arises.
For this blog post (and each blog post), focus is wanted. And for the overarching project of blogging, I want a focus. My interest is in discovering the truth, and helping others discover it. Of course, I’m not entirely sure what “the truth” is.
My interest in “thought clearing” is to find clarity of ideas, and to help other people find clarity in their reasoning and writing. But “clarity of ideas” might be as elusive as “the truth.”
It is my hope that what I write about focus and the processes of writing and research can help people struggling with their own writing and research. And that, I suppose, is the general focus for this blog.
Future blog posts might discuss general ideas of research, the political dimension of knowledge and research, and sports evaluation/analytics as an example of research issues. Do you have any subjects you would like me to address?
If you have questions about some aspect of writing or research or writing about research, please write a comment or send me an e-mail.
Struggling with academic writing and research? Check out my book: Getting the Best of Your Dissertation.