After a month or so of writing on this site, after a couple of false starts over the years, I thought I’d reflect a bit on what I’ve learnt through writing and how my research work, day job and additional writing are coming together.
I have tried to develop more of a discipline with the writing. Whether this will see me through the next three years (or so) to completion of my doctorate or not, I don’t know but what I do know is that writing is easy when you are on a roll, but it needs to be a discipline in order to make it a habit. I have never been one for self-help books, especially, but it was a book I read that emphasised the point which, thinking about it, is obvious (which I guess is the same for many self-help books) that to write when you don’t feel like writing, is the toughest part.
It’s also incredibly easy to stop writing. Yes, it’s about creating a habit but it doesn’t always develop naturally through habit and just a day or two of a lapse, makes it much harder to re-start.
I tend to work towards deadlines. One of the hardest things I’ve found about moving to a research aspect of a degree rather than a taught part is the flexibility of deadlines and knowing this in my head. I’ve bought myself (I did this last year as well) an A4 day to view diary with monthly plans at the front and while I’m a big fan of digitalisation, this diary sits on my desk and I make notes about what I have done and am planning to each day. I have the next few months mapped out and whilst that may and is likely to change, I have set myself clear expectations.
My ‘research diary’ as such sits on OneNote but having a paper version allows for other notes and is particularly helpful for setting myself deadlines. The problem with deadlines is the disappointment when you fail to meet them but while trying to build a discipline, I’m also trying not to be too hard on myself.
Along that line, the writing has been on the basis that I will review one paper a week and one book a week. I have deleted one post I published because I was told (and this was correct) that I had fatally misinterpreted an acronym used in the research paper which had completely changed its meaning. This was a very useful lesson to me about assumptions made, on my part and on the part of those who write for us. I am also not sure if I will be able to keep to that pace. I read a lot anyway, and a lot of the books I am reviewing, are books I’ve read over the last few years but having the discipline of trying to write regularly can be helpful, when it doesn’t involve too much pressure. It’s that balance between discipline and self-criticism that one has to walk, especially if you are particularly tired or stressed from work on one day.
While I want to succeed, I often have to prioritise work on a day to day basis and trying not to feel guilty when I spend days doing not-work, not-study things is also a focus.
I write because I want to practice writing. I am not looking at ‘hits’ or developing a loyal readership as I know I am quite selfishly choosing topics which are interesting to me. I choose papers I have found useful, either for my studying or for work. There is a paper that I read recently, that I thought was really poor and a book that I thought didn’t set out what it intended to. Generally, all the papers and books I have written about, I’ve found useful, helpful and well-written. I may need to develop more confidence before confronting the critical although that is a useful skill as well and one I will try to work on.
Often the last few years, I’ve had more division between my part time study and full time work. I had some study days generously granted by my employers and I brought some of the additional reading I had done into the workplace in exchange, including developing some additional mental capacity training which was rolled out. As I moved into a different job, the links are becoming easier to create because I am doing social work and studying about doing social work. It’s not always intrinsically linked because the areas of social work are different (long story) but what it has done is made me far more aware of the breadth of social work and the value in not compartmentalising the profession into ‘mental health’, ‘child protection’, ‘dementia’, ‘learning disabilities’. The ‘social work’ runs deeper and needs to run deeper than the topic. However, it has become more difficult to separate the time between work and study. I’ve had to actively use more leave which has an impact on the time to rest. This, I hope, will improve but it is a worry.
The other area I have become more aware of is the links and divisions between research and practice. Practitioner research happens and is happening. I am evidence of that. But in order for the profession to grow, it needs to happen far more. This isn’t about battle lines drawn between academia and practice. If anything, I have seen those are increasingly unhelpfully divisive, but we need to make space for more conversations and more conversations with the people who aren’t used to having these conversations – about how we can work together and how we can draw in more user and carer voices.
So I will try and continue as far as I can with the writing, as long as it helps me to learn. I keep telling myself that if I stop now, what I have learnt has already been worth the time (and financial) investment. I may move to one review post and one more flexible post, whether it’s posting links, an update on where I am going or how I use the various tools I use (I am currently on my fifth reference manager). Thank you for joining me.