When I first decided to start this blog I hoped it would force me to write short, thoughtful, and if I was lucky, entertaining or interesting posts on a regular (if infrequent) schedule. Writing these blog entries was more about the process of planning, drafting, editing, re-drafting, and completing them in a timely fashion. Perfect practice makes perfect and I planned to practice that process as much as I could in an environment that held the lowest of expectations (thus, keeping the pressure off the actual content).
Regular practice at the basic mechanics of writing decent prose would make it easier to produce work when there was a real and measurable goal — publications, project proposals, funding applications, cover letters, teaching plans, book reviews. I don’t produce stellar work when under excessive pressure, but far too many writers in my position only write when they must and that builds bad habits.
These are good and worthy reasons, and I did write for this blog, but I rarely wrote in the way I had initially intended. If the process was the important part — all those stages of planning, drafting, editing and correcting — then I was wasting my time here. I failed to use this space as it was intended and the few readers who stumbled here, perhaps after searching for the Public Broadcasting Service, had to read some rather weak stuff.
I mention this now out of an entirely irrational sense of embarrassment over my newest job. In order to fill some of the time I have between my MA and my PhD I have managed to get on at the local University as a writing tutor in the English department’s writing centre. The job involves no more than 7.5 hours a week, helping the occasional walk-in with the basics of first-year English essay writing. My actual job classification is Student Assistant II (the graduate student grade) and I share the shifts at the centre with a batch of senior English undergrads (I’m not sure if there are any graduate students in the rota as I have not met all of them). The department does not expect much from this unit but I would not have gotten where I am now if I did not take my responsibilities seriously. Thus, this confessional blog entry.
Now that I am working with students again I am reminded of how writing well is dependent on how much one works at writing well. I am not a natural at writing, although I doubt any readers here will be surprised. Some writers have a knack for clean drafts and that type of writer is an easy fit to the blog medium. I can’t think of many bloggers who would spend as much time as I will in drafting and re-drafting a blog entry like this one, especially if they are reasonably sure that only three or four people will read it.
Few writers explain that mechanical process and this makes it difficult for aspiring writers to work it out for themselves. Few writers likely know exactly what their process is, and fewer can articulate it. It is debatable whether this would even help as the process is often highly idiosyncratic and in my case, the process has changed substantially over time.
I mention this also because the blog will have a good cleaning soon, in preparation of a more public presence. The blog will maintain its internal anonymity but I am going to link it to my academic profile, a step designed to force my hand at taking more care with these entries and making their ritual production more regular and more constructive.
*** And for those who would like to know, this entry took about 3 hours, over three writing sessions, one major re-write, several smaller structural edits and about four re-reads to catch minor errors. Although, unlike my more formal writing, I didn’t draft a skeleton outline followed by a detailed outline, usually done on paper, before the drafting stage (that would have added another hour).