Creative Academic Writing

[This post stems from one of my courses this semester. Like UNL_DHS, reflections from and on this course UNL_H951 (Comparative History of Women and Gender), will appear relatively frequently for the next few months.]

On the first day of my Comparative History of Women and Gender course taught by Margaret Jacobs, she asked us to discuss our writing habits. This question made me think of something Thomas Andrews said when he visited UNL last fall. He said that when writing a dissertation you need to move beyond “binge” writing. By “binging” he was referring to exactly what I do when writing: doing most of your writing all at once-or at least in big chunks-(often late at night). This blog is an effort to move toward healthier writing habits. I hope that writing consistently on my blog will spill over into my academic writing.

The idea of “academic” writing itself, though, struck me more than any other part of our discussion. Some students noted the sterilized nature of scholarship and said they felt as though they had to stifle their voice to fit the conventional writing styles of history and other academic disciplines. While scholarship is certainly more formal than any kind of personal writing, I do believe that academic writing is not at odds with creativity.

My view on academic writing is very much rooted in my view of history as storytelling. The conventions of writing history may push out the use of first person, but I find that narrative is not dependent on using one view. Fiction in both literature and film often operates without a first person perspective. If these “creative” works can function as primarily third person narratives, I see no reason historical cannot be creative and meet every professional standard.

I intentionally used quotation marks in referencing fiction because I find the distinction between “serious” academic writing and “creative” writing are artificial. Dr. Jacobs astutely pointed out that these distinctions are rooted in gendered concepts with “serious” and “academic” writing being male and “creative” writing (with “flowery language”) being female.

In writing scholarship that is also creative academics can move beyond this dichotomy of “serious” vs “creative” and ultimately write history (or other scholarship) that the “public” would enjoy reading. The size of your words does not matter. It is the story that you tell.

One response to “Creative Academic Writing”

  1. Svetlana Rasmussen Avatar
    Svetlana Rasmussen

    As a fellow student I often find myself doing the binge writing, and was actually grateful to Dr. Jacobs for assigning a small, but rigorous style paper every week. Nevertheless, the problem of binge writing seems to go even there. Regular writing bouts coming from sudden inspiration coming almost too close to deadline are binges all the same. Writing a paragraph every day and being able to forgive yourself its quality knowing that the final idea will come after editing and re-editing come only through a rigorous self-discipline, developed in many other facets of life, not just writing.

    As for “serious” vs “creative” academic writing, I am a proponent of neither. Eloquence in writing is its one best quality; it presupposes the ability to tell the story in context, uncover the problem, and engage the reader.


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