An academic allowing herself to love writing, even if the future for Universities and Business Schools may be tough. How is it for you?

I am currently on study leave. Which basically means writing and quite often doing so in my pyjamas. Admittedly the first two weeks have been a bit rough, I was perhaps a bit surprised at that given how religious I had been about a Deep Work writing regime over the past year. But yesterday, the words began to flow once more. Sorry about the cliché. I was made up about this, I know there will be bad days again but getting some rhythm together certainly helps me. As I sat working at peace with the world for once I couldn’t help muse along with some things from deeply treasured friends this week. One was considering the ‘School for Business’ blog posted by Martin Parker on his last working day at the University of Leicester. As I tried to imagine the prospects of the future Business School or lack of, I was also struck by a tweeted comment in response to Martin’s post made by Jo Grady. It went along the lines of ‘University managers come and go. Collegial scholars do not. Be who you wanna see in universities’.

So, whilst my work yesterday was more solitary and not necessarily collegiate given I was drafting a sole-authored paper by myself for most of the day, I really enjoyed letting myself be a “proper f**king academic” for once. Thanks Gibson, that one always has and always will work for me. The current higher education context and climate admittedly is not all that rosey and it certainly has affected me substantially in recent months and I’d be the first to concede that I have perhaps let it consume me too much at times recently. However, as I wrote yesterday, I gave myself free rein to consider what are the most pleasurable bits of this craft? What bits help me to rekindle my love for academia?

I am writing about this elsewhere in my book but here are a few reflections about what I love about writing, especially.

…When I can write without any inhibitions, when I can speedily and sporadically put half-baked comments here there and everywhere to later join them together for a fully-fledged argument. Fixing a jigsaw I guess.

…When I can think across disciplines however outlandish the marriage might be and have the space to ponder about otherwise seemingly impossibilities.

…When I can really enjoy thinking about my broader research identity as an academic. A bit vomit worthy but essentially my elevator pitch or better, my proper academic bit. All academics have one of those even if they do not make it explicit and it certainly should not be the thing that is only worked out when one is in the labour market. It’s you, your research identity, the bit you can proudly stand up and say “This is me, this is who I am, this is what I do”. How does thinking about that on that research project connect with that other project over there? What do they compile and say about my research as a whole beyond surface level connections? 

…When I can write without the monster of the Research Excellent Framework or some other time dependent ranking sitting on my shoulders. I am not going to critique those agendas now, the whole point here is imagining the good bits, because there still are a lot. But I do like being able to say what needs to be said. Or at least what I think should be said. And if I can do that in an unorthodox fashion, even better.

…Working out something in a moment without really thinking too hard about it despite it perhaps being keeping me awake for months previously in a furor of anxiety.

…When my mind and body becomes addicted to the flow of the writing, when it wants to write and I want to write with it, rather than when I desperately want to write and my brain and fingers resist every single word.

…When it becomes even more infectious. Perhaps when I have finished at my desk for the day but find that my mind continues to run and race with ideas for hours on end. Working out the next bit of the scenario, finding a reference, building. Always growing something.

…When it allows me to be in a calm place and naturally produces creative, reflective and reflexive spaces. Specifically, in my 15 minute writing breaks I find that they offer some of my most fruitful thoughts. It’s always amazed me at just how clearly I can think when away from my mac, some might say skiving, putting the laundry on the washing line, doing the dishwasher etc.

…When it helps me to learn about myself, and as a result I find quite often that when I am writing a journal paper that I simultaneously have open my Academic Athlete manuscript draft primed for sporadic inserts. Whilst there is an argument that one should focus on one thing at a time and concentrate on it properly, I find it more disruptive to ignore these other thoughts.

So, if you sit down, free of all academic contextual and institutional ties and baggage, what do you like most about writing? What do you feel? And, how does it feel for you?

Riding outside in the UK winter is…

…Looking at 5 different apps on your phone before finally grasping it will never actually be 20 degrees and dry in the UK in January

…Dressing to go to the artic then sweating like you have the flu before even putting your    shoes on

…On that note, cursing everything in the world whilst you navigate your latex overshoes    over your cycling shoes

…Wobbling like a toddler when your first head out after months of a stable indoor bike

…Needing a wee within five minutes despite going ten times before leaving the house

…On the flat noticing just how much power you’ve built this winter. Nice one rocket

…And then having your hopes dashed as you hit one of Suffolk’s slight bumps and Thursday’s legs day smarts the whole way up

…Enjoying the burn in your lungs from the fresh air and feeling the beat of your lower heart rate. Thanks Watt Bike

…Loving the sound and feel of the rubber tyres on the tarmac. The hum. Yes, the hum

…Doing an out and back route just to get the benefit of a tailwind on the way home

…Snot everywhere, everywhere, despite the best directed snot rockets

…Seeing a slither of blue in the sky and telling yourself Spring will be here tomorrow

…Being thrown sporadically into the middle of the road due to the wind and using deep    rims

…Enjoying swearing at drivers again. It would seem the British public haven’t developed     their driving awareness over the winter like you have your cycling prowess

…Forgetting about work for a bit, too busy avoiding being flung in the ditch

…Whacking up the volume on your bone conduction headphones and riding like you stole your own several grands worth of bike

…Going the long way home just to go down a good hill at 42mph. Cheap thrills, eh.

…Hoping you beat a few by being out today

…Enjoying a post ride bath a bit too much, knowing in a few week’s time that will be ice     cold and after a brick run

…Looking forward to a lunch of champions before remembering it’s measly chicken and    leaves. Again. The six pack thanks you

…Realising after a quick snooze that you’ve only been 45 miles, still time to do some work and writing

…Having a bright red face for hours after. Horrible wind burn. I’d prefer sun burn

…Being able to walk on a Monday

…Buying a new bike. The January sales are dragging on. Damn. Welcome home #7.

Here’s a little snippet of a memorable tune from my ride as I climbed the last hill home:

“Staring at my empty glass just trying to figure out what to do

And I needed you, to tell me what I already knew

I caught myself around the kind of thoughts I never knew I could have

Show me how to move on, show me what it’s like to be a (wo)man

Yeah, I needed you, to tell me what I already knew

Anyone can tow line, the choice is yours son to live a life, find a way to rise above

Your only here once now

What goes around comes around

Grit your teeth when they kick you down

Find you way, find your love, your only here once now, your only here once now”

Ben McKelvey – Only Here Once.

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