I am interested in the places and practices of writing. Places of writing because a central part of my research is on space and place – everything happens somewhere and I want to know how that ‘somewhere’ impacts on what we do, how we feel about what we do, and who we are and might become. Many of us write in particular spaces or have our own favourite spaces for writing. I have a desk at work but I never do any ‘proper writing’ there – the ‘proper writing’ takes place at home in my workroom at the top of the house where I can look out of the window and see hill in the park where I walk my dogs and the trees at the top of that hill. I also like writing on trains, in cafes, and in open study and social areas in my university building. I carry my laptop around with me, sometimes with a book, sit down, set up, and away I go. Or, sometimes, I don’t or can’t get on with the writing, so I daydream instead, check my emails again, and fret about not writing. I am interested in how writing happens in, connects us to, and intersects with particular spaces; and how writing in a space helps us feel we ‘belong’ there temporarily.
In terms of writing practices, I am interested in how writing gets done – how those words actually get on the page, and how they get shaped into a text that communicates something to others. It sounds simple but it isn’t. I love writing, and once I get down to it I can immerse myself in it, and I find it relatively easy – well, easier, that is, than struggling to understand how Trump could win the election, doing a project budget, or dieting. However, I know I am probably in a minority in loving writing. Most people find it difficult, a slog, hard to focus on for a sustained period, and sometimes difficult to see through to the end. It is all of those things for me too! Sometimes, too, we feel that writing is a ‘luxury’, that we ought not to prioritise it over other things. Writing is often something that gets squeezed to the margins, not something we have to do, or have to do yet, it’s something we’ll ‘get to later’ on that beautiful day in the future when we have loads of time. In my experience, that day never comes. Writing has to be fitted in in bits and pieces, in short segments with the occasional longer stretch.
No doubt about it, writing is sheer hard work that only gets done because you sit down and do it. For me, the pleasure of writing is usually bigger than the pain. But how do you write? And why? What do you do/ need to do to get those words on the page in an order that feels ‘right’ to you, or at least as right as they can be for the purpose at hand?
As a Co-Editor of Gender and Education I also see many original article manuscripts. Some of these contain brilliant ideas but some are let down by the writing: the structure may be poor, the argument might lack clarity and direction, the Introduction, Main Body and Conclusions don’t match up, or it’s not been proof-read properly and has lots of spelling and grammatical errors, or sometimes it might seem like it’s been written in a vacuum, with little reference to ongoing debates in the field or to literature. In these cases, as a journal editor, I have to make very tough decisions about whether to send an article out to review, send it back to the author to revise and resubmit, or reject it outright. Part of my writing ‘mission’ is to encourage emerging researchers to get work to a good enough standard so that if you send it to Gender and Education I and my three other Co-Editors make the decision to send it out to review – it doesn’t mean that ultimately it is accepted, but it does mean you’ve got thorough the first hurdle, are in the review system, and have a fighting chance!
Here’s some background about me?
And about Gender and Education journal
I am interested in how academic writing practices are learned, and the different styles of academic writing that PhD students are required to develop. I have worked with colleagues on a number of collaborative writing projects, including as a research assistant with colleagues from other disciplines, which has made me reflect on how writing practices differ between subjects. I am interested in how individuals, particularly doctoral students and emerging researchers, can encourage and empower each other to write through initiatives such as ‘Shut Up And Write’.
As a PhD student myself I am only too aware of the need to craft and shape my writing, especially to the high standard that journals expect. Others like me, who aspire to academic careers, will need to ensure that they are able to write effectively for this audience in particular, and thus academic writing skills are essential for career development.
One of the ways I motivate myself to write regularly is by writing where I reflect on my experiences of doctoral study and engage with some of the challenges of my research. This blog can be found here: https://rachelhandforth.wordpress.com/.