How I write – Yowanne Vella
by Marie Benoit
I write academic pieces of work and not literary works. In many ways I suppose I cannot really describe myself as a writer as such, for what I do goes with the territory of my job. It is obligatory for lecturers at universities to publish their research work whether you are a talented writer or not. Academic writing can in fact be the antithesis of creative writing, for it is a highly disciplined form of reporting with a strict and rigorous format which one cannot stray from. One of my favourite science fiction writers Isaac Asimov, who was also a university lecturer, once said that after writing his PhD he was so traumatised by the rigid academic writing required that it took him a whole year to recover and to begin to write novels again!
Having said that, I must admit that I actually enjoy writing and there is in fact a pattern to how I do it. Of course one cannot wake up one morning and decide, like I suppose novelists may do, to write on something. There is a whole process that must proceed academic writing. First I have to do the fieldwork, collect the data, analyse and then start to report on my findings. My writings fall under three categories. I write about history pedagogy, usually on children’s cognitive thinking and understanding in history. I sometimes write pure history mainly having to do with women’s history in the 18th century and I also write and prepare history textbooks or teaching packs.
I’ve learnt to recognise my writing pattern. I usually start writing at random all my initial thoughts, ideas, data analysis, referencing etc., I then abandon these for a time (weeks or months sometimes, where I’m thinking about it but not actually writing anything) then I need a good solid uninterrupted period of feverish writing. I may be a female but when it comes to writing I am not a multi-tasker. I’ve always envied those ladies who cheerfully prepare dinner, breast feed, listen to the radio and write academic papers. Indeed many a female university lecturer would recognise herself as one of these wonderful women. Alas I do not belong to this group; when it comes to writing I need to focus on nothing else except the writing. In fact I never write anything at home where I am surrounded by various delightful distractions like teenagers, cats and a husband. Therefore if I am to write anything it usually means going in very early to university usually around 7.30am and staying in my office till 6pm writing nonstop except for a quick lunch break in the canteen. This can of course only be done during rare occasions such as test week or summer holidays when there are no lectures going on. I’ve learnt not to panic when after three days of this I feel it’s still not forming well because I’ve noticed it normally all comes together after I leave it for a time and then go back to it again, usually a one day break at the end does the trick.
As you can see it can be hard work but very rewarding. After all these years I still get such a thrill each time a paper of mine is accepted and published by an international reviewed academic journal. For me that’s like winning the lottery and when it happens I’ve been known to do a little happy dance in the corridors of my Faculty to the amusement of my B.Ed and PGCE students.