Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I wish I could write. I don’t mean I wish I could write well, I mean I wish I could write. I go for long periods, as a glance at my blog would prove, when I don’t feel able to put any words out that might be worth reading. To say that I get ‘writer’s block’ would make it sound a bit grand because I am not in any sense a writer. The fact is though, that I find writing incredibly difficult. Or I should say, most of the time I find writing difficult. Now this is particularly a problem, given the path that I have chosen to follow (or been chosen to follow): training to be a vicar, and as part of that training, and with a view to teaching at some point in time, a particular academic route which involves not a small amount of writing. (I am currently pursuing an MPhil in New Testament studies, with aspirations to take it further and upgrade to a PhD).

I do have a passion for study. I love reading, and I could read and read and read until the cows come home. I take copious amounts of notes, and stroke my chin, and ponder, and think, but when it comes to putting my fingers on the keyboard and opening up that blank document and actually beginning to put down my own thoughts, I almost invariably struggle. I say almost invariably because there are moments, all too rare, and usually last minute, driven by deadlines, when I can knuckle down and knock out a few thousand words. Come to think of it, I must have knocked out getting on for 100,000 words or so over the last 5 years or so. And, if I’m honest, for most of those words I have had pretty good feedback, reasonable grades etc. So why do I still find it so difficult?

I think there are two main contributing factors. The first, and by far the biggest, is confidence. Or lack of. In the same way I often find it difficult to articulate myself in speaking, if I’m in a group I’m quite often likely to be one of the quieter members, I tend to have to think quite carefully about what I want to say, or write, rather than just ‘let it flow’. I still struggle with preaching, although I’ve done it many times, I always get incredibly nervous. I sweat over the preparation, struggle to focus on anything else for about a week before, and generally cack it until it’s delivered. I think there is something psychological which goes on where I become more concerned with the fact that I am supposed to come up with the words, than with focussing on just getting on with speaking or writing.

The second main factor is lack of focus. Whether it’s blogs, email, websites, other books that I’m reading or whatever, there are always a million and one things which clamour for my attention. I know this is the same for everyone these days. We have a short attention span, or rather, we have a broad attention span. Writing takes focus, and it takes discipline, both of which I have in short supply. What can be done about this?

One practice that has been recommended to me is ‘freewriting’. That is, just practising writing, for set amounts of time, not worrying too much about the content. The idea is that you can always go back and edit the content later, but that it is important to just get used to getting the words down. Like any discipline, a habit needs to be formed by regular, repetition of achievable tasks. It is apparently a well known problem for research students to do too much reading before they begin to write, and I have already fallen well into this trap. By practising ‘freewriting’ it is claimed that you can quite quickly develop your writing to the point where you can write 1000 words in an hour. They may not be the best 1000 words you can write, but that is not the point. Blogging would seem to be the ideal format to practice, if I wasn’t so concerned about what other people thought.

The other thing that I clearly need to improve on is just blocking out periods of time dedicated to research and writing. I need to turn the phone off, turn off internet access, shut the study door, ensure peace and quiet, and get on with it. I need to train my brain to switch off about other responsibilities, like worship leading or sermon writing, and crack on with the main thing that I want to be giving my time to. Any thoughts on how I can improve on this?

Anyway, that was a bit of a bash at ‘freewriting’, on the subject of writing. Maybe I’ll post it on my blog. Maybe I won’t. Now back to the election, or should I go to bed?


Lewis said...

I'm having similar problems at the minute too Jon! Trying to get the Hebrew up to scratch, as well as preparing for MPhil in OT biblical studies - fortunately for me, if I don't do my writing I won't fail anything... yet!

I wish there was a simple answer. Perhaps something one could download from the internet..!? Good old fashioned focused graft and time management seem to be the real answer - but I'm not giving in to that just yet!! ;)

How's things mate?

Jon said...

Hiya mate, glad to hear you are pursuing your OT studies. You are right, it does come down to just knuckling down and persevering I suppose.

Do you think you'll do your MPhil at BCC or somewhere else?

We are well, Su is getting bigger by the day, she is 20 weeks now, had the scan last week and all looks well.

take care,


Lewis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lewis said...

It's looking like Birmingham Uni at the minute (though I would prefer Sheffield, I think.) It's actually an MPhil(B) - the slacker's MPhil?? - which works as an academic route to PhD, so it suits my needs. It is partially taught (research methods etc) so I thought that would suit me best.

Glad to hear that Su is going well at 20 weeks. It'd be nice to meet up with you guys sometime.

Agree with your "Obama" post too. It's an historic day - and I only said myself today, "we have to remember he is not the messiah!". Still, we can whoop and holler along with our American cousins... well, in a reserved kind of British way, of course!

Anonymous said...

A Big Whopping DITTO!!! My last blog post was a while ago even though had heaps of stuff in the brain!!!! Lee B