I hope this writing to serve a different purpose than my daily journaling. Already, having spent but thirty minutes sat down at my laptop, I can recognise that difference. I can recognise it, but I can’t put my finger on it. My mind is flowing in a new, different, manner. Is this the flow, the thinking, of a “writer”? I have no idea, I’ve never been a writer. All I’ve been is just seemingly quite decent at writing on the few occasions I’ve put my mind and my hands to the task.
My first recollections of this are a few short stories throughout my secondary school English education catching my teacher’s eye; a short piece describing a quiet forest scene particularly sticks in my mind. My mum has, throughout my life, regularly and positively reinforced that I have a good turn of phrase and a natural aptitude for writing. But, whilst my mum was an English teacher before progressing to “teaching head teachers” as I so simplistically describe it, I generally considered – and likely unconsciously dismissed – such remarks as the natural pandering of a mother to her child. And yet, my mother’s words were found to be consistently correct throughout the time of my PhD (surprising everyone but herself I might add).
It was during my PhD that I personally recognised my natural ability to write. Whilst this recognition was discovered through the eyes of others, the recognition did occur nonetheless. As part of a PhD, a student is expected to investigate a topic and hopefully discover new facets of information within it. This is, obviously (I hope), a major simplification of the doctorate process; I’m sticking to it for now so I may make my point: how is the world to know of the novel contributions that each lone student does make?
Through presentation of that work of course. And so each demonstration of contribution is written, generally, to present that work in a clear manner that can be picked up and understood by others. On-stage or poster presentations may also be required, largely to provide a summary of the work, but a written document is commonly considered the best approach so others may fully grasp the intricacies of that work. And, in most cases, this leads to a final thesis: a written amalgamation of that student’s work throughout the whole PhD process, a single document describing the impact and importance of their work over the last however many soul-destroying years. And still, the thesis cannot simply describe the work. It must be – should be – a storybook, in its own way; a representation of that person’s learning, just written in the context of their research.
I’ve gone passionately off topic here so I’ll bring it back around in the next paragraph, but I first want to make two points that I hope the previous paragraphs have demonstrated:
- The doctorate process is largely one of learning, of expanding your ability to do independent research. Whilst the knowledge presented in ones thesis work would ideally be both impactful and important, unexpected or negative results can easily hold their own significance if presented well and, importantly, within the story of that work.
- Whilst not least excluding the skills required to research the actual doctorate topic, my simplistic PhD overview has introduced but a small subset of the skills utilised throughout the experience. The lessons and competencies a PhD will teach one are both immeasurable and immense, extending beyond what the student will ever recognise they have learnt; this is why they are so great a learning experience, and why, I believe, they are near unfathomable to fully comprehend.
So, anyway, I wrote. I wrote to present my work, writing in my natural academic writing tones to be as clear and concise as I could. And it was recognised, my ability to depict contributions through writing was recognised. It was recognised by my supervisors, it was recognised by unknown reviewers of my work, and it was recognised by my thesis examiners.
It took work: I took time over my sentence structure and choice of words, but it made an impact on the quality of my work. And, you know what? I enjoyed it. Perhaps the most enjoyable parts of my PhD were, in fact, when I had finished my experiments and I could freely write them up in my own way. My supervisors loved it: less editing for them. The reviewers appreciated it – enough, I believe, to carry me through a borderline acceptance in one case. And the examiners recognised its impact on the clarity of my story. It was fantastic to hear “One of the most clearly written theses I’ve read” during my viva voce, and I gave myself a happy pat on my back upon hearing they’d found no typos in the whole thing!
With the reinforcement of these writing achievements behind me, I truly clicked onto my ability and enjoyment of writing. I still didn’t do it much (still don’t!), just when required, but I learnt that it was a skill that I had and one that I enjoyed.
I’ve been writing this piece and I’ve come to the end, I’m still not entirely sure why I’m writing this. What does it achieve, to tell the world, “I am good at writing!”? To toot my own trumpet? Any writer with any experience reading this might think I’m trash at writing. Other’s might think me egotistical and self-centred to proclaim this “fact”. I think what it comes down to, again, is the story. The story of my self-recognition, of me learning this about myself, through trial, error, luck – who knows. But it is learnt, I have discovered that I enjoy writing. And by writing this drivel of a piece I am practising what I enjoy.
Maybe the real why of this piece is to take a step back, to listen to what people are telling you, to remember when you have enjoyed yourself. Take those moments and cherish them, and then build on them. Expand on what you enjoy and you’re probably doing something right. We live this life – might as well enjoy it, right?