Getting back to writing after a period of time away from formal education can be difficult – whether it is writing an essay or part of your research literature review.
This is normal. YOU are normal. If you didn’t feel nervous and apprehensive, then you wouldn’t be normal. Would you?
So . . . stop worrying about your writing and thinking that it has to be as perfect as Seamus Heaney’s or J. K. Rowling’s.
Remember this . . . although your lecturer or supervisor is probably a “writer” in that they publish research papers and books, 99% of their time is spent working on, and reading / correcting, DRAFTS of work – regardless of whether they are drafts of student essays, student research reports / thesis sections, their own manuscript that will (hopefully) get published, administrative documents / handbooks / policies, etc.
So . . . why would they expect you to be able to produce immediately publishable work ???
So . . . in a nice way, “get over yourself” and be happy in the knowledge that writing is a skill that gets better with two things: (i) PRACTICE, and (ii) FEEDBACK !!! Academic writing has certain rules, nuances, and “tricks of the trade” that you pick up over time . . . through practice and feedback.
Remember – your lecturer or research supervisor was once as useless as you probably feel. So, ask yourself the question: How did they learn to be a good academic writer ???
Answer = practice and feedback !!!
So . . . get those first two pages written and submitted for some feedback.
But – before you do submit them, check that all of the basic stuff is perfect, or as perfect as possible. Use the spellchecker on the computer, check to ensure that your references are perfect etc. If you’re not sure of issues to do with grammar, style, flow etc., get someone to help you. Find someone who is good at this – not just someone who you “think” is good – but someone who actually is good. Don’t just assume that if your sister has completed a Masters that she’ll be brilliant. Maybe she’s not!
I have one really strong and happy memory of getting this kind of help from my mother. A slightly edited John Prine lyric from the song Paradise sums it up well:
my mother and her help are . . .
. . . often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn
(John Prine: Paradise)
When studying for my undergraduate degree, I used to write my essays at home. I’d retreat to the “good room” that was only used when visitors arrived, or at Christmas – when my father would set a really good fire – with turf, coal, and wooden logs. I have great memories of my father and Christmas in that room (re-run of The Quiet Man included!).
In general, I’d be writing the essay on a Monday for submission by the Wednesday. My mum would also be at home – her day off work. So, there I’d be in the good room beavering away and my mum would be in the kitchen – generally ironing clothes for everyone at home. A mammoth and thankless task.
I’m getting there 🙂
Throughout the day, l would periodically pop my head around the door and drop the new draft of the essay onto the ironing board, with a renewed plea to my mum to read it for me.
I always asked my mum to read sections of my essays to see if they “made sense”. My mum would always say “Sure, what do I know about psychology?” I would always remind her that she didn’t need to know . . . she just needed to know if what she read made sense – did it seem to flow ok, no typos, good grammar, appropriate paragraph breaks etc.
These breaks for feedback invariably came with a cup of coffee with my mum – and probably Henry Kelly on the TV in the background presenting the quiz show “Going for Gold”.
When I was graduating, my mum asked – fairly – should she get gowned-up too. After all, she reasoned, didn’t she do all of the essays too 🙂
Back to reality . . .
Unless you are one of those rare people who is naturally a gifted academic writer, expect to see these two pages returned with “blood” all over them. No – of course not real blood. But metaphorical blood all the same. What do I mean by this? Well, if your supervisor is a “writer” and publishes their research, they will be well used to getting feedback / comments / criticism on their work from colleagues at work or anonymous reviewers who have reviewed their manuscript for a Journal Editor to assess whether it should be published as it is, with either minor or major revisions, or not publishable at all in that Journal. Quite often, the submitted manuscript that we thought was perfect, gets returned with harsh (often true) comments all over it – i.e., blood all over it – slaughtered by the reviewer.
Most supervisors will have experience of this – and might even let you see a manuscript that they have had returned – always remember that none of us are perfect and we are continually trying to become better at writing / communicating – i.e., PRACTICE AND FEEDBACK.
So, your supervisor isn’t even perfect – they are just a little more practiced in the art. Isn’t that what you are paying your fees for? To profit from their knowledge and experience?
So, get those first two pages drafted and submitted. Hope for a returned version with (at least some) blood on it – learn from this and enact all the changes and advice / suggestions in the next draft.
The more blood the better!
You’ll get there 🙂
Posted on 2nd October, 2015. Copyright Conor Mc Guckin