Writing about not writing: A mis-diagnosis



What is it about writer’s block that just cannot be broken for days and sometimes weeks on end? I’ve been suffering it for weeks now and not sure when it will end. I have been reading and thinking and procrastinating and even losing sleep over it. It’s like all of these great ideas are rolling around in my head and yet I cannot get them out.

Last week I facilitated a workshop for newly arrived international PhD students and heard myself telling them that if there is no writing then there is no review or feedback to get. I heard myself telling them more than once yet I am not doing it myself! Do as I say not as I do and all that. A terrible case of imposter syndrome has gripped me and I feel desperately desperate.

Many months ago just after my confirmation and a week before my main supervisor left for a 6 month sabbatical, she set me a mountain of work to do. I passed my first milestone – confirmation – without amendments and in fact the panel was suitably impressed but that was short lived once my supervisor was gone. In that time we took on another supervisor and parted amicably with our associate supervisor. I met with the new supervisor, acting chief, a couple of times to talk and discuss where to from confirmation. He helped me review my ethics paperwork which was granted four weeks later as was ethics application to Catholic Education Melbourne and I even have the principal’s support from the research school. And yet I cannot write.

Further to this, the mountain of work my main supervisor left me included to read more and write up my lit review and methodology chapters. I have been reading but the latter two I haven’t started, although as I sit in front of the television on my mobile phone typing this first draft I realise I have done a little writing on two topics maybe 800 words in all. Surely that’s not enough is it? I have read and taken notes on many articles and am reading off and on two books my co supervisor offered in our first meeting (he doesn’t know that).

Last week I re-visited my rejected article co-written (well … sort of) with a previous supervisor on my minor research looking at relationships between teachers and teacher aides. I’ve decided that I want to do it over on my own but different, so last week I spent two days listening to the interview tapes again and reading through the transcripts but I did not write. I did practice some opening lines in my head as I did the washing and cooking and cleaning and other procrastinations but I DID NOT write. Why?

All this I did as well as attending several meetings at Uni to do with my work not my PhD and re-working my workshop for non-funded students, prepping questions for our monthly #survivephd twitter chat, as well as working on a coaching model review for one school and preparing proposals for schools who are enquiring about professional learning in 2017.

I’m a part-time PhD student and am currently in a state of non-academic-writing … or am I?

Having just written this post here on a recliner on my iPhone, it makes me feel a whole lot better and in fact I may have mis-diagnosed my condition.

I don’t have writer’s block. I may have a little imposter syndrome but certainly not writer’s block.

Tomorrow I shall write some more.
Thanks for reading 🙂

Can’t you make it more interesting? To me it’s like I’ve heard it all before.

Yesterday I spent quite a while making a new infogram about what Year 12 students must do over the Term 1 holidays. Before I publish these types of things I always seek my daughter’s opinion on the points  – she being in Year 12 – I find it is very important that she thinks it is worthwhile putting it ‘out there’. Well last night I got a response that I was not expecting – you can read it in the post heading…

I must admit, I was offended. I did try to explain how important it was but to no avail, so I just shut down and watched some mindless TV prior to one of my favourites on a Wednesday night – I love “The Good Wife” – are you shocked?

parmiggiano sauceAnyhow, back to the point, I can be easily distracted, and am especially good at procrastinating with work although this tends to be an advantage for my family as I mostly procrastinate and avoid ‘work’ by cooking. BTW I have already prepared a Calabrian parmiggiano sauce for tonight’s dinner!

Fight it – back to topic at hand. So now after I’ve had a chance to think I’d like to propose 7 ‘interesting’ points that I hope will inspire Year 12s and in fact any student to ponder during the term break.

You’re tired. Tired of early wake ups, tired of trudging your way to school, tired of attending and listening to blablablabla lots of work to do, blablabla here’s the homework, blablabla SAC coming up next week, blablabla in preparation for SACs you need to … blablabla. Tired of coming home to do more work, prepare study notes, watch this video, read that text, complete these exercises, study, study, study. Am I warm? Okay then, why not take a break? Yes I know, your teachers have said that you need to do at least 10 hours of work over the holidays – and for Year 12s that’s for EACH subject! So that means 50 hours of homework /study, over 10 days, not counting the weekends, that’s 5 hours a day on average. So let’s break that down:

  1. 10 days = 240 hours (not counting 3 weekends x 2 days in each = 6 days, 144 hours free).
  2. 24 hours in a day minus 5 hours of homework / study = 19 hours free
  3. 19 hours free, let’s say, 10 hours sleep = 9 hours per day free
  4. 9 hours a day for 10 days = 90 hours free
  5. 90 hours over 10 days to work, travel, socialise or just lounge around, finally…
  6. 144 hours (weekends) minus 40 hours (per day) average sleep time (or less cause you are too busy raging) + 90 hours (week days) over two weeks = 194 hours free over the term break – and yes it does include lunch at Nonna’s house on Easter Sunday BUT the Easter Monday public holiday makes up for it, so no complaints!
  7. If we do the calculations for time over the last term, that is 10 weeks of school (50 days, actually less due to staggered start times, and a public holiday or two) but essentially 50 days x 24 hours = 1200 hrs. School’s in for 7 hours (8:30am-3:30pm) a day for 50 days = 350 hours, Year 12s should be doing at least 3 hours of homework / study a night, 3 x 50 = 150 hours. Calculating an average of 8 hours sleep per night over 50 days = 400 hours. That means 1200 minus 350, minus 150, minus 400 = 300 hours free, not including weekends over the 50 weeks. So you only had 300 hours during weekdays over 50 weeks of the term BUT you get 194 hours free over two weeks during term break. Get the picture?

Okay, was that a bit more interesting, something you haven’t heard before?

Good! Now … let me spell out your 6 MUST DOs for the holidays…that is… if you WANT to do well in VCE / HSC at the end of the year. If not, well enjoy your holidays but don’t blame the system if you don’t achieve your best, whatever that might be + effort = satisfaction. Dreams + No / little effort = Disappointment. I’ll let you choose…

Here’s the infogram I prepared yesterday
6Mustdosovertheholidays title=

Preps, for heaven’s sake – I failed preps!

I was just thinking…

When I was at school in the seventies and eighties, teachers had a pretty good standing in the community. We didn’t tend to make a big fuss about how they could’t teach, or how they didn’t always ‘perform’ for us. We pretty much had similar bullying issues as now but we didn’t have to deal with social media as the kids do now. The whole world didn’t get to have a say, it was just between us. I personally had some pretty awful experiences at school, nothing like the stuff that happens now I admit but to a pre teen at the time it was pretty big. Thankfully I also had some pretty great ones.

salami sandwichI can laugh now, at the many times I tried to hide the salami sandwiches from my friends but was always found out because they could smell them. “Yuk! What’s that?” they’d ask, “It stinks!” Nowadays they’d gladly swap their vegemite sandwiches for one! Or how about the times I wore a dress over jeans and was laughed at – now it can be quite fashionable, and yes my hem was above the knees! Then there are the memories of being called four eyes because I wore glasses due to a lazy eye – which, by the way, was operated on when I was 5. In that same year I travelled back with my parents to Italy for three months. The surgery actually took place after we returned, thanks to my perceptive paternal grandfather who noticed my eye move while staying on the farm. After all that, I presented at school again only to find that my long absence and my failure to understand or speak very little English meant a repeat of preps! Preps for heaven’s sake, I failed preps!

My next memory of school troubles me to this day and is one of the main reasons I work in education. 

a_girl_with_glasses_by_christdyspidey-d65wedjIn Grade 1, after repeating preps, I was often kept back after school because I didn’t know my reader. The teacher would have me sit in a corner and ‘read’. She never really assisted me and I never really understood how to go about teaching myself to read English – you see I knew how to read simple Italian words but that’s phonetic so more easily done than English! That in hindsight, meant I wasn’t as dumb as I was made to feel in school. Every night I would be sent home to ‘learn’ my English reader. That was of no use really as both my parents were Italian! My mother knew some English at the time but I  don’t think she understood that she needed to ‘teach’ me how to read in English. I have vivid images of one particular reader about a tiger in the jungle and most probably I could have explained the reader orally using the visuals BUT that didn’t count. I simply couldn’t read English and the teacher had no idea how to engage a student who presented as ESL. I tried.

Thank goodness for Grade Two; enter Mrs. Longmuir. Now, she understood. I soon developed, through sheer hard work and many more failures and disappointments, skills in reading and writing and worked my way through till I finished 4th in my Grade 6 year level! I’ve got a book with a certificate and $10 to prove it! Well, I spent the money in 1976 but I still have the book on world stamps! Now don’t let the topic bother you. It is in fact a beautiful book, bright orange cover, with the reproduction of a gorgeous art nouveau style female figure similar to the image below. (They were obviously aware of my drawing abilities.) I really adored this book and I remember drawing images from it at the time.


Secondary school had its highs and lows; the lows I won’t dwell on but it’s during this time, in Year 9 in fact, when I decided I wanted to become an art teacher. I wanted to be just like Zacher! One thing led to another and I found myself teaching art in a wonderful little girls’ school in Fairfield, NSW. I loved Rosary High. The school closed in 1990 and was re-established as Mary MacKillop College in Wakeley the next year. Sadly, I left at the end of 1989 (my family needed me back) and returned to my hometown of Melbourne where I continued to teach in Catholic schools. And, here I am after 27 years of teaching, still loving it and still wanting more. I thoroughly enjoy working with staff in schools, delivering professional development sessions face to face and on line and I really enjoy working with individual students, exploring different strategies to help them establish successful study skills. I have also relished the opportunity of being able to complete a minor research thesis in 2013 but I do miss teaching secondary students. Hopefully opportunities will come where I can spend some time in different classrooms, while still consulting and completing some more research.

Ideally I would love for everyone to experience success but not without knowing and accepting that failure, whilst debilitating, is a great way to learn. Michael Jordan said it well; “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I cannot accept not trying.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts or perhaps some of what you experience(d) at school; feel free to comment below.