It’s been ages since I posted anything here. My lame excuse is that I now write for a living. With some academic projects boiling on the side, my writing mileage regularly tops fifty hours a week. When I’m done for the day all I want to do is collapse on the couch and watch TV shows about pensioners on campsites. Really.
But I suppose I’ve learned a lot about writing over the past few weeks and it’s always a good idea to sit down and take stock. For years most of the writing I produced was academic and bound to strict rules. Even though I’ve often been told that my writing is accessible – not always meant as a compliment – it’s fair to say that academic writing doesn’t allow much room for creativity and experimentation.
Of course I did some blogging on the side. The very reason I started this blog in the first place was a desire to write something that didn’t need footnotes or references and could be as wacky as I wished. For a long time blogging, like writing in my journal, was a way to write about topics I couldn’t cover in my academic work. It was an escape, a form of rebellion, even a little bit radical. And just plain old fun.
When I entered the wonderful world of content writing, my blog skills became a marketable asset. Or a transferable skill, to borrow a hideous term favoured by academic careers advisors. Over the past few weeks I’ve written about topics ranging from windmills to Indian entrepreneurs. I’ve written 500-word blog posts, 200-word features, 800-word opinion pieces.
I’ve also done things I’d never done before. I’ve interviewed people who told me about things I knew little or nothing about. I’ve managed to record and transcribe those interviews and not make a total fool of myself. I’ve called people minutes after they agreed to speak to me, armed with nothing but a few hastily scribbled-down questions. For someone who used to find ordering a coffee a struggle and has been known to take weeks to gather the courage to send important e-mails, this is no mean feat.
A major difference in terms of writing is that everything I produce needs to be short and punchy. Gone are the long sentences, the jargon, the endless paragraphs, the block quotes. I’m wearing out my delete and enter buttons more than ever before. I’ve written 100-word pitches that were criticized for being too long and too wordy. I’ve often been annoyed by academia’s fetishization of style over substance and its obsession with all things long and difficult, so I enjoy being in an environment that demands the opposite from me, but it was a bit of a culture shock at first.
So even though some people might argue that I’m making things harder for myself by continuing to write academic pieces, I actually find that it fills an academia-shaped hole in my life. I still haven’t figured out whether academia is for me or not and have decided, for the moment, not to worry about making a choice and seeing where life takes me. But I do enjoy academic writing. You could even say I’ve rediscovered what made me fall in love with academia in the first place.
What I like is the opportunity to really dive into a subject and spend months, or even years, looking into a topic you love. What I love is being able to write a 15,000 word book chapter on said topic and weaving a web of quotations and sources into a text that builds on the work of others. What motivates me is taking part in a conversation and taking scholarship to a place where it hasn’t been before, forcing myself beyond my comfort zone by editing my writing again, and again, and again.
The saying that variety is the spice of life is a tired old cliche, so I won’t say it (or maybe I just did). But if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past few weeks, it’s that writing comes in many different forms, and that I love being able to experiment with all those different forms. I like speed, I like slowness, I like depth, I like punchiness, I like editing, I like researching, and I like getting better at all of those things.