Home > Research > On writing (or ‘on not writing’)

On writing (or ‘on not writing’)


Yesterday, I had an unfortunate episode of writer’s block, probably the first time since I submitted my PhD that I’ve properly struck by it. This was particularly frustrating because I’ve felt in quite good form recently with my writing in that I’ve managed to put in a couple of funding applications, a conference abstract, a book proposal, a chapter abstract and all of my blogs posts (all… six of ’em) over the past six months or so. So yeah, things were going quite well and then Friday came along and… nothing… My mind was just completely frozen up and every time I looked at the screen I just couldn’t find the words. At all. Maybe it’s a bit of a mental hangover from finishing my competitive co-operation paper I submitted on Sunday (in which I used the very attractive term ‘co-opetition’. It just trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?), or maybe it’s just changing gear to something completely different. Whatever it is, I hope it runs its course sometime soon and let me get back on it, especially since I just recently found out that I won’t be returned as an Early Career Researcher for REF2014, meaning that instead of submitting two ‘pieces of assessment’, I now need to submit four. Not a big deal and I would have had the four by the end of 2013 anyway, but now that it’s ‘mandated’ by my department, I feel a little bit of pressure on to get it done.

So this current article I’m working on is about orientations towards violence among working-class adolescent males and the most I was able to do was take a conference paper I’d done on it from about 10 months ago and reorganise it into something resembling an article (if only in terms of section headings rather than actual content). I had originally planned to submit it to the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, a very highly respected publication edited by a colleague of mine at Birmingham City University (Professor David Wilson), but since the majority of their publications are focused on the penal industry (stop snickering), I didn’t think that my article was a particularly good fit. So, I’ve decided to submit it instead to the British Journal of Criminology where it seems to fit a bit better. I did get massively excited when I stumbled upon this research centre at the University of Glasgow and was particularly taken by the following quote:

“The tradition of the hard man has tremendous currency in contemporary Scottish popular commentary and in literature but there has been little serious discussion of his antecedents or of the constituents of manliness that have seemingly prevailed in Scottish society.”

In my article, this is more or less what I’m investigating: what is it to be a ‘man’ in contemporary Glasgow today, what role does violence play in the construction of ‘tough’ masculinity in the city, and how far do adolescent males resist, contest and challenge dominant ideologies of ‘tough’ masculinity? I’m especially interested in the impact of violence on adolescent male constructions of masculinity because the image of the ‘hard man’ is such a dominant cultural touchstone for young men (promoted in large part by parents and caregivers). I’m analysing narratives (again) to see how the participants in my ethnography talk about their experiences of violence and what it means to them to be a ‘man’. My biggest argument is that violence really is a part of the lives of many adolescent males in Glasgow, but not in the ways we might stereotypically think (especially because I problematise how far violence can be considered the preserve of only ‘neds’. And yes, I know the term is an issue, which is why it’s in scare quotes).

Maybe, just maybe, by the beginning of the week the fog will have lifted (metaphorically speaking) and I’ll be able to make some headway on this article before I have to start thinking about putting together yet another funding application…

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  1. July 30, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Looking forward to reading this one, particularly because I think there’s a massive gap between the way the media portrays violence and people’s orientation to it, against people’s actual orientation.

    In other news, I’m doing a gig (in a side room) at the Hare and Hounds on Tuesday 9th August. As an extra incentive, the guy who puts it on hooks up retro games on a big screen (SNES Mario Kart last month). You should come along!

  2. July 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Hi Dave, thanks for the comment. Yeah, there is definitely a gap between ‘reality’ vs. ‘presentation’, and I kept getting annoyed by the idea that people thought adolescent males in Glasgow viewed violence in pretty straightforward ways. I want to show that it’s a bit more complex than we might perhaps think, but I think it’ll be a while before I actually finish the article >.<

    Good to hear that you've got a gig. I'll try and make it down to the H&H, but remember that electronica isn't my forte (although retro gaming is)!

  3. July 31, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    I sympathise with your attack of writer’s block. I am currently ‘stuck’ writing a time-travel novel. My problem is not that I cannot think of what to say, but rather a fear of being accused of plagiarism has stopped me in my tracks.

    I have written a short chapter which I concede is vaguely reminiscent of a scene from ‘Back to the Future’. I can re-write the section, but should I really have to? Most of the time travel stories / films I have ever read / watched contain ideas which other writers have also used in one form or another. There are only so many ways to skin a cat! My fear is that I will write something original, only for someone to accuse me of copying an obscure storyline from a 1966 episode of The Time Tunnel which I never even watched!

  4. August 2, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    As a postscript to the above, following another day of not writing my novel, I should perhaps clarify that the scene in Back to the Future is itself reminiscent of a idea that is frequently used in Dr Who!

    The film Groundhog Day tells the story of a man trapped in a time loop. Some people think it was based on the brilliant novel Replay by Ken Grimwood. There is a similarity in the concept, but they are by no means the same story.

    It begs the question as to whether it is possible to have an entirely new creative idea in this very specific genre? Or is every time travel novel merely a variation on the original?

  5. August 2, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Hi David, sorry to hear about your block, although you’re right that it is very different knowing the words and being scared to commit them to paper!

    I think that time travel stories *have* to reuse themes. I mean, there’s only so many ways it can play out, right? You should focus on getting the story out and then go back through it to see how (or even if) it needs to be rewritten to avoid potential charges of plagiarism. Just send it to your editor/agent and have them cast an eye on it. I suppose that’s kind of what they’re there for (although not having either, that’s a total guess!).

    The extension to your question is ‘is it possible to have an entirely new creative idea in *any* genre?’!

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