As Ken Robinson is fond of saying ‘academics live in their head’ and writing is perhaps the way that most academic’s communicate to others what is in their head. Probably the only things I do on a regular basis i.e. most days, is write and create illustrations alongside my writing. If someone asks me what do you do? My first thought is, ‘I write a lot’. I write blog posts and content for websites, journal and magazine articles and books, in the past I have written a multitude of reports and working papers. I hate to think what proportion of my adult life has been spent writing. Perhaps, for people like me there is a need for a ‘writing app’ like the ‘footsteps app’. I have led the life of a writer in many different contexts for work and for pleasure. Writing and illustrating are ‘work’ in the sense of producing something for an audience and a purpose, and a hobby – in the sense of producing something for myself. In fact, all my writing starts off as writing for myself and then some of it is re-purposed for an audience and a context.
Writing is the means by which I am able to immerse my ‘self’ in my thoughts. It’s a process of growth whereby thoughts and feelings are represented in words and then words and phrases are written and rewritten over and over again until the point when I let them go. I cannot read anything I have written without making changes to it because there is always a better way of saying something. Ever since I started writing for audiences other than teachers (as a doctoral student) I have also turned ideas into pictures or diagrams. This is a form of self-expression driven by a desire to understand the relationships, interactions and processes between the ideas and the things I am trying to explain. I enjoy working with illustrators who are more talented than I am to turn ideas into graphical narratives. But I prefer to write by myself as this is the essence of my self-expression.
I can’t say that sitting at a laptop for many hours a day is healthy. In fact its positively bad for my posture and health as I stumble out of my chair and try to get my knees working again. Furthermore, the combination of writing and my wife’s delicious cooking has dire consequences for my shape. I do try and get outside to do something physical most days. But even then I may well be thinking about the stuff I am writing about.
Writing is a process in which I crystallise ideas and feelings from my cognitive/psychological world. It’s always wondrous to me, in the sense that I have no idea what will emerge on my screen until it has emerged. It feels creative even when there is a struggle to put words on a page. It is a sort of emergent synthesis in the sense that I connect up particular ideas, in particular orders with particular words to create sentences with meanings some of which feel original to me and may well be original to others or even to the whole of mankind for all I know. What I write may, and often does, start off not making much sense but by the time I have finished it more or less makes sense to me. Writing is a way of searching for and eventually discovering new meaning: it’s all about the creation of meaning and perhaps persuading others that these meanings have value. And this is particularly the case in a body of work like a book or article. The creative value is in the collection of meanings that are brought together in a way that no-one has ever brought together before. Writing is not an act in isolation -thinking, reading, writing and illustrating are woven together in the experience of writing. It is the process of weaving things together that results in something new and unique, and this gives me pleasure, makes me feel fulfilled and sustains me (my ‘self’) as a scholar. Perhaps it is this idea of sustaining and developing an aspect of myself that I value that is at the heart of a key part of my wellbeing.
There is one more aspect of writing that I should acknowledge. I wrote a lot of journal articles and several books for publishers until I began to realise about 15 years ago that this meant that most people would not read them Since then most of what I have written is openly accessible through my own websites or hosted on platforms like academia.edu and ResearchGate. It was one of the reasons I started my own open access on-line magazines to bypass publishers intent on making money from writers.
I get little feedback from people who read what I have written but when I do it is generally positive and it makes me feel good. More importantly, I know I benefit hugely in my work from the literature I have read and it’s only because others have shared their ideas through their writing that I am even able to have my own ideas. So writing is the way I honour this tradition and add my own ideas to my culture. And I know that when I read and I’m enthused by the writings of people long gone like - John Dewey, Eduard Lindeman, Carl Rogers to name a few I know their ideas live on in me. And I know that in some small way my own writing may spark the imaginations of others and this thought provides me with a vague sense of immortality which is also good for my soul.
I wrote this post without looking up a definition of what wellbeing meant and I added the definition after I had written it. I think my story captures well the idea that through my writing I am able to develop my potential and work productively and creatively on work that I find meaningful. Teressa Amabile makes the point that to be positive about doing something we have to find what we are doing meaningful. Writing is generally a solitarty activity so I am not directly building strong and positive relationships with others. I am however building strong relationships with the ideas and materials I am working with and perhaps indirectly I am connecting to the readers of my work. Also in the #creativeHE forum I am through my writing contributing to my community and I believe I am contributing to my cuture - the discipline and the field. I believe through my writing I am fulfilling my individual and social potential
And just to let you know, writing this little piece has given me pleasure and helped me understand myself a little more.
1). The Government Office for Science. (2008). Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project: Final project report. (Foresight). London: The Government Office for Science
Slowly, over the discussion this week I have realised that my sense of wellbeing is as subjective as my concept of creativity. My wellbeing is linked to my health – whether I am free from illness and pain, and my level of fitness and physical capability, my identities – who I think I am embedded in the life I lead (my circumstances), what I value in my life – the people I love, the people who love me, my home, family and friends and the network of people who I interact with in my work, and my way of life - the things I love doing and the sense of achievement and fulfilment I gain from involving myself in these things, like being with my family, my work and hobbies, working in my garden, travelling and seeing new places, having new experiences and sharing the things I have produced with others.
After reading about psychological wellbeing I learn my wellbeing has two components. Firstly, the “hedonic” or happiness, dimension of subjective well-being (SWB, 1) consisting of a cognitive component that evaluates how satisfied I am with every aspect of my life and an affective component characterized by the prevalence of positive emotions rather than negative emotions as I experience my life. The second element is my psychological wellbeing (2), the “eudaimonic” component, relates to the search for and creation of meaning in my life, as I seek and find purposes and try to realise these purposes and become a better version of myself (3).
At any time the way I feel about myself, my circumstance and my life (past, present and imaginings of the future) changes as stuff happens. Mostly, it has been positive and has enabled me to grow and become a different person but there have certainly been times in my life when my life have been transformed. I have been fortunate in being able to absorb the ups and downs but sometimes what happens impacts profoundly on one, several or all aspects of the above to the point where I will never be or feel the same again. For example, the loss of my first wife over 20 years ago, or the serious illness of one of my children seven years ago, or making a radical career change 30 years ago.
For the first time I am beginning to appreciate that my creativity must play into my complex mix of subjective and psychological wellbeing. Quite how, when and why it does are questions to be pondered. But the subject of this post, my writing as a medium for my creativity, is probably embedded in the eudaimonic aspects of my psychological wellbeing linked to my identity as a scholar.
1 Kahneman, D., Diener, E., and Schwarz, N. (eds). (1999). Well-Being: The Foundations of hedonic psychology. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
2 Ryff, C.D., Singer, B.H. and Love, G.D. (2004) Positive health: connecting wellbeing with biology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 359, 1383-1394.
3 Ryan RM, Deci EL. On happiness and human potentials: a review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. A Rev Psychol. 2001;52:141–166. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.141.