Learning how to write again

Hi, my name is Alexandra, and this is my first-ever post for Grad Life!

I am very excited for the year ahead, but also a little nervous; taking this first plunge was harder than I thought, and for a long time I couldn’t put my finger on why. As I struggled with this inaugural post for Grad Life, I realized something important: blogging for you this year will be an opportunity to learn how to write again — outside of academia that is. I’m used to writing 3000-word scientific journal articles, not blog posts!

I asked a friend who recently participated in a Three-Day Novel Writing Contest if she had any tips, and she lent me a book : Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  I started reading it as I took the 80 home down Parc towards Place-des-Arts metro station. How appropriate.

I loved what I read. Reading it gave me the feeling of getting home and remembering that something exciting was waiting for me on the other side of the threshold.

Goldberg says it’s all about practice; writing every day for an hour—finding the right pen, getting a spiral notebook at the dollar store and filling the pages.  One notebook per month. Just do it. Writing will find you, it’s in you, don’t overthink it, just don’t.

Natalie Goldberg recommends picking the goofiest notebook possible when practicing creative writing so as not to take the endeavor too seriously
Natalie Goldberg recommends picking the goofiest notebook possible when practicing creative writing so as not to take the endeavour too seriously

Well I’ve been taught to overthink everything.  Haven’t most of us here at McGill? It’s what makes us  good students, good scientists. It’s hard to let go of.  By the time I got to graduate school, I considered myself a strong scientific writer. I could write clearly (with subtitles, and footnotes, and even a conflict of interest section!), but the writing was dry. As scientists we strive to be perceived as unbiased. We certainly aren’t, but the best can hide it completely.

In the posts that will follow this one, I will try to peel away the cobwebs that academia has left on my “writer within,” as Natalie Goldberg calls it. Goldberg states that writing is “a process of “uneducation” rather than education.”

I think a little uneducation is important for my sanity, but also for staying in touch with the world outside of McGill.

As a graduate student, it is quite easy to become so immersed in research and studies that daily contacts with fellow students, academics, and faculty become homogenous. It is such a challenge to seek interdisciplinarity in research endeavours. Luckily, Montreal is a rich pool of creativity.

So, as I re-learn the ropes of writing, I’ll use my background in psychiatry and mental health research as a jumping-off point. In my future posts on Grad Life, I hope to talk about the intersections between mental health and (dis)ability and the artistic and cultural events happening at McGill, in Montreal, and beyond. I am looking forward to the year ahead in this creative and thoughtful writing community!

4 thoughts on “Learning how to write again

  1. Hi Miss Blair,

    I enjoyed reading your blog entry so much. I do hope that you successfully get back in touch with your non-academic self with your new position as a blogger for this fantastic website. I sincerely look forward to reading your posts in the future.

    All the best!


  2. I can definitely sympathize! I have been working on my first blog post for a week now… I have forgotten how to write freely. I spend way to much time re-analyzing each sentence and I always feel like it is not good enough. Hopefully today I will get over myself and just publish the first post!


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