Friday, 15 January 2016

Elbowing writing problems out of the way

One omission from my recent post on writing and research was any reference to the work of Peter Elbow. He is probably best known for his promotion of free writing but he also has a great deal to say about the role of our understanding and use of spoken language. Spoken language, he argues, can be used as a tool to help us write more clearly particularly when it comes to harnessing it for editing existing texts. I particularly like this quotation from his 2013 paper "Using careless speech for careful, well crafted writing – whatever its style". 

"We can’t count on speech (or freewriting) to yield crisp clear sentences, but when we harness the resources of speech by reading aloud to revise, we can count on the intonational habits of the mouth and ear to produce sentences that are stronger and clearer than are often produced when people try to write with care". 

Ironically I find his writing a little dense in parts and often skip over parts of the text but that is a minor issue, because in my experience what he is saying is eminently 

Elbow, Peter (2013) "Using Careless Speech for Careful, Well-Crafted Writing— Whatever Its Style," The Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning: Vol. 19: Iss. 1, Article 3. 
Available at:

Honour and success

The laidlaw trilogy, and indeed all the books of William McIlvanney offer philosophy as well as detection, they are why done it's rather than we done its. 
Laidlaw is a very moral man, well educated and reflective. I was particularly heartened by Mcillvanney's comment. 

I think that we all benefit when honour and acting honourable are privileged over pursuing personal success. 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Writing as research and other ideas

I have been doing a lot of thinking and writing about writing just recently.

Just about every module that I teach includes some aspect of writing, I supervise phd students who have to write a lot, and I spend a great deal of my own time thinking and writing as well. So anything which can make the process more enjoyable and more productive has to be a good idea, and if I can find ideas and share those ideas so much the better.

I can't quite recall what started me on this latest expedition back into the territory of writing and thinking. I suspect that I came across ideas in a book for research supervisors supporting PhD students (Kamler and Thompson, 2014).

I found the book pretty heavy going overall, that they were gems within the text and the concluding chapter was particularly useful from my point of view. I think it was this edition, downloaded with great pain as an e-book from the University library, that reminded me of the concept of writing as research (more of which in another post) .

I also recall that I read in weekend edition of the newspaper an article about Robert Boice's famous book a How writers journey to comfort and fluency (Boice, 1974). The main issue with this book is that it costs at least £65 and you can be pretty hard to come by.

However being a resourceful academic I made use of that ultimate research tool, the search engine, and found myself a few related articles which I have collected together in my Mendeley group,  a few of which are referenced at the bottom of this piece.

One by Boice which made a lasting impression on me, brought together sources as diverse as hypnosis, spiritualism and surrealism - if you are ever come across information on automatic writing, you are advised to take note of this quote

Having made a foray into the online sources of papers by Boice, I returned to the task of finding a book. I managed to locate a much cheaper but related book, Professors as Writers (Boice, 1990) which was available in electronic format. Reading that alerted me to hold other set of publications. So I made some time and did a load of reading and lo and  behold, I am chugging away with my writing, and champing at the bit to share my newfound prizes with other people.

Moving on from Boice, a number of useful publications are pitched at fiction authors. nonetheless I think much of the advice is equally relevant and useful two academic authors. Julia Cameron devised a method of daily pages for creativity, which has much relevance to writers. The method is explained in The Artists Way, which for my money has a little too many references to God and uncovering genius, however, I came across it via a motivational web site called 750 words, and it does present a well structured approach which can definitely make positive contributions to the writing process.

Interesting, some aspects of cameron's approach can be found in a much earlier publication by Dorothea Brande titled Becoming a Writer (Brande, 1934) which has been widely cited and is much admired by many famous authors.

Interestingly, the advice of Cameron and Brande is actually borne out by the evidence which Boice (originally a psychologist, but much concerned with professional development)  assembled whilst he was working at Stanford

There are of course lots of resources online which relate to academic writing

A goto destination for academic advice is always the tomorrow's professor website, run by Rick Riess, this site is a gem of a source for educational and professional development items which will be relevant and useful for academics and post grad students particularly, But in some cases even for undergraduate students. Listed below I just a short selection of the currently available relevant resources:

Another one is the Academic coaching and writing web site which is particularly useful since it has a writing ebook, and many links to interesting and relevant articles. 


Boice, R. and Jones, F., 1984. Why Academicians Don’t Write. The Journal of Higher Education, 55(5), pp.567–582. Available at:

Boice, R. and Meyers, P.E., 1986. Two Parallel Traditions Automatic Writing and Free Writing. Written Communication, 3(4), pp.471-490.

Boice, R., 1990. Professors as writers: A self-help guide to productive writing. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.

Boice, R., 1994. How Writers Journey To Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure. Praeger, Greenwood Publishing Group, 88 Post Road West, Box 5007, Westport, CT 06881.

Boice, R., 1995. Writerly Rules for Teachers. The Journal of Higher Education, 66(1), pp.32–60. Available at:

Brande, D., 1934. Becoming a writer

Cameron, J., 2002. The artist's way. Penguin.

Kamler, B. and Thomson, P., 2014. Helping doctoral students write: Pedagogies for supervision. Routledge.


Academic coaching and writing:
Tomorrow's Professor: