Posted in Writing

Writing challenge (Day One)

Tim* has set me a challenge. A challenge to write a blog post every day this week. Here’s why (it’s a long-ish story, so please bear with me).

In 2006 (I warned you) Tim and I wrote a conference paper called Contextualising student engagement: Orientation and beyond in teacher education. A few people read it. One of those people was an academic in New Zealand who was part of a team putting together an annotated bibliography about student engagement. That was in 2009. The team concluded that it had some merit.

We move now to early 2012. The intervening years saw us write a little bit, but not much. I wrote a book chapter on radio as a means of inquiry for a book called Technology and teaching and we wrote a few conference papers. My favourite was one called Discomforting the research spirit: Uncomfortable narratives of being and becoming a researcher. Between 2006 and 2012 we were busy with other aspects of our jobs and writing wasn’t something that we were terribly keen on. At least I wasn’t. Still aren’t. I don’t like writing. There, I’ve said it.

Except that’s not strictly true. What I don’t like writing is journal articles that ask for a theoretical framework and need to be written in a very particular way. There is a formula for writing journal articles and that takes the creativity out of writing. It’s that kind of writing I don’t like.

So, cut to this blog. Why the challenge? There’s one piece of information I haven’t yet told you. Earlier this year I received an email from an academic in England who is putting together a Handbook on Student Engagement. She either saw our conference paper or the annotated bibliography and invited us to write a chapter for the book.

We said yes, thank you very much, we’d love to.

And then promptly forgot about it. Well, not forgot so much as put it to the backs of our minds. The deadline was months away; there was plenty of time.

That was months ago. The deadline is now. Well, this month now. In 17 days. We have to have the chapter written by September 28 – and not because I head off then, but that’s because that’s the deadline.

The place I’m heading off to

So, we have to write. Tim and I are writing together. And that’s where the challenge comes in. I don’t like writing. When I know I have to follow a particular structure I get a knot in my stomach and a clench in my jaw … and I cannot write. I can think, I can read, I can talk my ideas out. But I don’t like putting words on a page in a particular order so that they make some kind of sense.

I like editing. I like having some words to play with. I like to see the thinking on the page and then shape it. Tim had one suggestion for the chapter we’re writing. He’ll write one section and I’ll write another. This is how the conversation went.

Tim to me: You write section 3 and I’ll write section 2.

Me to Tim: When you say ‘write’ what do you mean?

Tim to me: Putting words on a page (add a little head movement in there and you’re getting close to how he said it). I’ve done some reading, I’ve done some thinking, I’ve done some planning, and now it’s time to write.

Me to Tim: I have ideas. Why can’t I tell you what my ideas are, then I can go away while you write?

Tim: Because that’s not writing.

Me: Well, what is writing?

What is writing? Is it physically putting words on a page? Isn’t it enough that I have the ideas? Do I have to put them into some kind of order as well? 

Tim: I challenge you to write a blog post every day this week. Further, I challenge you to write about something  in each blog post. The first day [which was yesterday, so I’m already a day behind, but that’s another story] you are to write about what is writing and the second day you’re to write about editing vs the blank page.

So here I am … on day one (well, sort of), still wondering what writing is.

In the meantime, Tim has written section 2 and I’ve given him ideas for section 3. That’s writing. Isn’t it?

I’ve spent 47 minutes writing this blog post, including time re-reading the chapter I wrote on using radio as a means of inquiry (I had to make sure it was okay enough to link to!). I can write blog posts. I like writing blog posts … but journal articles and book chapters? They’re something else altogether.

Is this writing?

Tim* = Tim Moss, my husband


I like to travel and take photographs. I like to blog about both.

5 thoughts on “Writing challenge (Day One)

  1. Thank you. I have had a hard week teaching (one of those weeks where all of our sage comments about the biggest challenge being parents are reinforced by the irrational behaviour of one of said parents) and your blogs are exactly what I needed to lift my mood. I have, of course, read the four blogs in reverse order, since I ignored the first three in the midst of my mid-week misery, and picked up from today’s post. I may need to have a word with Tim to suggest that he issues you with another challenge to post blogs every week. For those occasions when I need to smile and remember that there’s always something good to think about. I have also just realised how much I miss interacting with you regularly. Thank you for taking Tim up on his challenge; thank you Tim for challenging Sharon!


    1. Hi Stephanie, great to hear from you. Thank you for such a lovely comment, I was really touched by it. When we get caught up in the rush and sizzle of teaching we often need a reminder to step back and take off the teacher hat and just be. Your comment has reminded me of that – and given me an idea for a future blog post! Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂


  2. You make a really good point Mandy. Tim is sympathetic to the social nature of collaboration, but when he feels that he’s doing all the writing (if writing is defined as putting words on the page) and I’m not doing that then he’s less sympathetic. It’s why the question of ‘what is writing’ is so important. If we don’t have a shared/common understanding then tensions will arise.

    I’m sure the same can be said for student collaborations. Is the person who does the ‘writing’ the one who is doing all the work?

    I’m really just trying to justify not actually putting words on the page, but making my contribution through my ideas 🙂

    If putting words on the page is the hard bit then can I avoid doing it? If we both feel that putting words on the page is the hard bit then we’ll never get anything published … and that’s not a good look for an academic!


    1. Needless to say, I am sympathetic to both of you and, in particular, hope you (Sharon) work out how to get your ideas flowing on that academically structured page.


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