2nd year reflections – the flaws in my writing

I’m just over half way through and experiencing mixed emotions after a recent supervision meeting with my primary and 2nd supervisors. I had submitted a draft of my literature review and received feedback on my work in the session. In summary, I am not as far along as I had hoped and this is because I am succumbing to some basic errors. I also must admit to myself that I was aware that one of the sections was not as strong as I has hoped. I reflected on this after the meeting and over the weekend. I have felt anxiety and discomfort at my progress and am starting to worry about my ability to produce the work I have planned.

Rather than stew any longer, I have decided to write it all down here and commit myself to some actions. My faults are based on three core areas:

  • Clarity and consistency of definitions and terms
  • Structure and flow,
  • Use of theory.

I will outline my reflections on each and my plan to try to address this in the rest of this blog.

My use of gender terms suffers from inconsistency and a lack of clarity, which in part derives from my own lack of confidence in the correct terms to use sometimes. One example is that I have interchangeably used ‘patriarchal dividend’ (Connell, 2005), ‘masculinity dividend’ and ‘fatherhood dividend’. I am conscious that this is categorical error reflects my own conceptualisations of what I mean when I use such variations, but that is not clear to the reader. As a consequence, I create abstract meanings in the way I express myself, which means my reader will lose confidence in my argument. This inconsistency highlights the occasional chasm that emerges between what I am thinking as I write and what I actually commit to the page.

To correct this problem, I need to emphasise and construct very principled and precise prose for future contributions. I am realising the importance of precision and exactness in my work as there is no point in thinking of a really convincing argument in my head, but rushing it on the page. I have realised that such folly not only irritates my reader, it also damages my own purpose of expressing a clear and cogent argument.

My second error is with structure. I find myself meandering within defined sections of my essay, often jumping from one point to another, paying only lip service to the flow of the argument. This is a consequence of the way I think in general, which is often tangential and muddled. I am frequently reminded of this in conversations with my wife, Holly where I am guilty of starting a conversation mid way through, having had part of the preamble in my head. The subsequent conversation makes perfect sense to me, but absolutely no sense to her. This fault seems to also occur, perhaps to a lesser degree, in my writing. Which begs the question, is this fault totally debilitating, or can I find a method to correct it?

On one side, I am conscious that I am a natural ‘plan as I go’ writer. I love the George RR Martin analogy of the ‘gardener’ writer versus the architect. The gardener plants seeds and nurtures whatever grows into a wild, but hopefully beautiful garden. The architect plans the garden in meticulous detail, from borders, to plant species, and colour of wood stain on the decking. I know I am not a natural architect, but I am not succeeding as a total gardener either. I have tried constructing a skeleton structure in my recent writing, but this appears to be too loose and subject to repetition and incoherent sequences. I like to see what emerges as I write, but recognise now that this process needs to remain as a ‘process’ prior to a serious edit! One thing I am not succeeding in is constructing a final version that reads well for my audience and I believe my structuring is to blame.

To address this issue, I need to plan my ideas first (I like the mind map for this, and Jamie also suggested the Venn to articulate the themes that intersect and form my actual argument). Second, I should construct a clear outline of the essay, which expresses the flow of my argument and the basis of my view in evidence. If I am using evidence for frivolous reasons, it needs to go! If I am light in other areas, it needs more evidence! I will also do some ‘retrospective structuring’ to identify what my current essays actually say (based on a sentence summary for each paragraph) compared to what I want them to say.

Finally, I must admit I am sometimes guilty of some lazy writing when it comes to citing theorists without the necessary depth of understanding. I tend to latch on to the headline of the theory without grasping the fullness of the argument and this is a serious problem. What I am primarily guilty of is a scatter-gun approach, which fails to identify a clear theorist to build my ideas upon. I think this comes from a lack of clear conceptual clarity on what I want to say in my essay. I am writing about a subject, but not following a clear argument, aligned, or building on a theory, that expresses my view.

If I am to become a serious writer in academia (and beyond), I pledge to myself that I will, from this day forth, decide on my argument and commit to it with a clear basis in a theory that reinforces my view. I need to strip away the superfluous theories that represent interesting, but underdeveloped distractions in my writing. I also need to ensure I am properly educating myself of the wealth of existing theory on prominent terms. One example in my masculinity essay was ‘female masculinity’, which was coined by Jack Halberstam, that I had totally missed in my reading. This omission was unacceptable and embarrassing for someone trying to produce coherent gender academic writing. I will not make this mistake again!

To conclude, I want my writing to be coherent and consistent so that my reader can understand and follow my argument. I commit to maintaining clarity in my writing by anchoring my argument to consistent, well explained terms. I will plan my writing to form a cogent structure with a convincing progression of ideas, not just a cluster of ideas around some central themes. Finally, I will write with more confidence and stick with a theory that works for what I want to say, not just because a surface idea is related to what I am thinking at the time of writing. Ultimately, I need to be more disciplined in my writing and treat it as a discipline, not just an indulgence. If I want writing to be my job, I need to treat the process with the respect it deserves, and that means more practice and more respect for the process.


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