What counts as ‘writing’?

I suspect this post is more about my deeply divided psyche than about writing, but I ask the question nonetheless  – what counts as ‘writing’?

The question is precipitated for me by a comment made a friend and fellow author on a Facebook post. I was celebrating the acceptance of an education research manuscript to a good journal. What I wrote was ‘The simple joy of having a paper accepted’. My fellow author responded by saying ‘Well done! Writers’ sweat blood!’

The funny thing is, I agree with her. I think writers do sweat blood. But I don’t think of my academic outputs as writing. I don’t sweat blood over writing academic papers, so what is the difference?

Perhaps, for academic papers, the effort, or the space of risk-taking, is actually exerted elsewhere. For a chemistry paper, the effort exerted is in the laboratory. The frustration and challenges are usually over by the time you actually write the paper. Education is a little different, but again the ‘sweating’ usually takes place in the conceptualisation, or data analysis. Again, by the time I get to write the paper, the major challenge is behind me.

I know that writing an academic paper is not trivial, but to me it is a qualitatively different activity to other sorts of writing that I do.

This blog, or writing poetry serves a different purpose. It is more personal, more about my making sense of my world and my experiences. This feels more like ‘proper’ writing. In the process of writing I usually gain some personal insight.

Writing ‘Rooted in Love’ was more of a middle ground kind of space. Mostly, it was about teaching, but I did encounter a few internal shifts and insights along the way.

And yet, the writing which people do that requires sweating blood is still a step beyond where I am. That kind of writing, is a much creative process. I am a writer, but I am not quite that kind of writer.

I’ll accept that I am a writer because of the poetry and this blog and these kinds of writings. I’ll accept that I am a writer because the process of writing helps me.

But academic writing still doesn’t feel like it counts. Most of my academic writing emerges because it is the necessary last step of the research process (and it is what ‘counts’ as productivity in academia). The need to write academic papers is a systemic requirement rather than a personal imperative.

And once, through writing, I gain insight! Writing Rooted in Love was a personal imperative. I needed to do it. It emerged from a deep part of my being. So there is the useful distinction – what is the motivation. Writing which emerges from a need to write feels like ‘proper’ writing. For me, academic writing is more a means to an end.

I should hastily add – these are my personal distinctions – I know some for whom academic writing is much more of a personal imperative.

3 thoughts on “What counts as ‘writing’?

    • Hi Ken, I know what you are saying and in one sense – yes. But I suspect the characterization is too simple. I know academics who are passionate about the communication of the intellectual story – to me that is vocational and therefore situated in the heart – but the product is ‘heady’.

  1. I have had similar thoughts this summer, as I have been working on a textbook for use in my classes and doing less creative non-fiction writing. Even though I know that I am honing my craft no matter what I write, it doesn’t feel the same. I wonder if part of it is that I’m writing for a job that I am compensated for, so it doesn’t fit with the “starving artist” image that so many aspiring writers hold?

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