Reflections on writing

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working diligently at writing a couple of papers for my comprehensive exams. Throughout the process of writing, I’ve been observing how I write and where I get my inspiration.

I was struck by how writing processes are similar to design processes. I found myself working through multiple iterations of conceptual frameworks, tweaking each one, until I finally came to something that I’m happy with. What is particularly interesting is that this final solution has absolutely no resemblance to the initial draft.

My initial inspiration was achieved with the help of large sheets of paper and multiple coloured markers (bright white paper and good quality markers). I found myself drawing out concepts and trying to figure out how things were interconnected. I would borrow a structure form some other scholar, but quickly determine that my thoughts didn’t align. Before I could succeed, I had to give myself permission to create my own structure. This giving myself permission was a huge leap!

Whenever I got stuck on something, I would go out for a walk or go to the gym. Inevitably, I would be struck by inspiration and found myself needing to capture my ideas. I found swyping them in my phone to be slow, such that the idea escaped before I captured it, so I ended up buying the FlexT9 voice recognition plus swype keyboard. This turned out to be my savior (a worthwhile $5 purchase that I wish I did sooner), as I could just open a note in Evernote and talk into the phone. This talking is slightly slower that making an audio recording without being too slow, which caused me to form my thoughts before saying them. When I got back to my desk, my ideas were well formed and available on my computer. I’m not sure how I survived without it!

As I worked through iterations of my paper, I was amused to find myself needing to “draw a picture” of the structure of my document, in order for the relationship between information to become clear in my head. Once I had the picture, I could then explain how the different ideas where related. In one of my papers I used the picture to explain the structure, in the other I choose to use questions to form the structure.

The other ah-ha moment I had was that I found myself in the role of “subject matter expert” (SME). As an instructional designer I often work with SMEs to help them reduce the amount of information they want to present – so that they can present only what the audience needs, and not try to explain every nuance of the subject. I found myself wanting to “enhance” the paper by adding this nuance and that nuance, thereby making it confusing and impossible to follow. I found that the paper lost its impact because I was trying to say too much (I had a 15-page double-space limit). So, alas, I had to remind myself that although I may be the SME, my paper did not need to say everything that there was to know about the topic. It is better to just focus on a few key aspects and communicate them well.

So now I’m finding myself in the final stages of putting it down for a day or two, then re-reading and revising, and limiting “enhancements” to only those that are crucial. Its been a fun and yet stressful experience, and I’ll be glad when it has been submitted, and I can move on to the next challenge!

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