What if you had to publish an essay or mini thesis every year? What if it was part of your job? What if it was part of your life’s work? What if you just wrote for the love of writing? What if….?
Most universities set an expectation that all academic staff publish ‘something’ each year. Whether it is collaborative research, a keynote speech, presented research, a literature review or an individual inquiry – the expectation is that learning and research will be written and shared. This expectation at a previous job prompted me to research computational thinking in depth and write a children’s book about computational thinking as a love story. It is a weird combo I have to admit and I am not sure it would have come about naturally if the prompt/output expectation wasn’t there. Publishing research can be a meaningful process and I personally love how research outputs can also be creative. Nobody is bound by the structures of the traditional essay these days. Although I do love a good essay, there is also art to make, blogs to log, literature to respond to and poetry to write…
The process of writing is important. Firstly you need to have something to say. Then you need to organize your thoughts through further thinking. The challenge to record your thoughts is rightfully challenging. There is also back up/data and evidence to consider and then there is the opportunity to share what you think and the fear, too, of what might come back once your ideas are out there.
“Writing enables the external storage of information that can be represented symbolically (e.g., letters, numbers, words, formulas drawings) and which can then be analyzed, critiqued, reproduced, and transformed, among other potential actions.” Menary, R. (2007). Writing as thinking. Language Sciences, 29, 621-632.
Writing is more than capturing
Writing is an important process for organising thoughts yet the act of writing down the thoughts also achieves more clarity of thought. Writing can also be a kind of memory tracker for recording a moment in time. Consequently it can also be a way to check in with past thinking and hold your present self more accountable. It can make goals tangible, it can clarify objectives and it can open your thinking up for critical feedback. According to Cambridge research, expressive writing can help us to become more adaptive, more structured and have a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
There are two specific ways that writing is an important release. Like the shopping lists that are better written down to relieve the working memory of your brain, writing down your thoughts and questions anchors them in time. Your brain is relieved from the burden of remembering the thing. In another way though, the words can be released into the world to fly for themselves. If an idea is worth sharing, then surely it is worth growing through sharing? The release of your idea could be a catalyst for something new and exciting. Writing can be like setting a bird free.
The signifier/signified interstitial spaces can only be mapped so far according to Saussure and semiotics. The word pipe is not a pipe. The painting of a pipe is not a pipe. They are signifiers of the signified ‘pipe’ that exists beyond the signifiers. What I write is not the thing itself but, through writing, at least the words are closer to the thing. And the thing that I experience, at the very least through the writing process, can be brought closer to someone else’s experience through them reading my writing. It might just seem like meandering thoughts on paper… but what if the words lead somewhere significant? What if they actually arrive somewhere?
Learning to write is learning to think. You don’t know anything clearly unless you can state it in writing.S. I. Hayakawa
Releasing words can be scary. I recently shared my thoughts on play-based learning in a secondary context with the new educational journal everyday.aotearoa and I was more than pleased to get a mention in a recommendation within the DisruptEd community. On a personal level, it feels good to see my words arrive somewhere. In such an inspiring journal, what a wonderful thing it is to see my words read, remembered and talked about! And then, though I was feeling a bit hoha (perhaps theall-too-common end of term-itis that kicks in for teachers) I feel inspired to keep on keeping on, because words, once released, can make meaning beyond the page.
The flip side
Turning the page on writing for meaning and making meaning through writing is that writing can also be extremely personal. Sure, this is a public blog, but the writing if this post is about personal reflection on the importance of the process of writing and the potential that can come from it.
Walter Benjamin said, “No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener” and it holds true for writing academic reflections too. The writing is for clearer thinking. The writing is for capturing thinking and the release part is the brave part of ‘come what may’ and letting the words go.
So what if you wrote something every year? What if your words could be released into the wild? Could they spark something in someone? What if your writing could spark meaningful change?
I recently lamented to a close friend, “I just can’t be/can’t do all the things”. I was referring to the usual overwhelm and personal pressure that I put on myself for making art, writing poetry, researching pedagogy, writing, teaching, exhibiting and parenting. And you know what? I expected her to day, no, you can’t. You can’t do everything. You should stop putting pressure on yourself to do all the things. You are trying to do too much…. etc.
But instead she said, “Yes you can. And you shouldn’t stop trying.”
And maybe those are the words that need to get out. We shouldn’t stop writing. We shouldn’t stop sharing. We shouldn’t stop trying.
And so these thoughts are captured, and released.
NB: The title for this blog ‘Words don’t capture, they release’ is a direct quote from a book called ‘The Comfort Book’ by Matt Haig and his reflection ‘Words’. His reflection on the power of words to explore Critical Theory, Depression and the wonderfully complicated yet obtuse power of words and writing stung me in my hearty parts and prompted this post.