what do academic writing and dance music have in common?

My son is a musician. He DJs and performs, writes and records and he does pretty well – you can check him out here and here.

I had a conversation with him a while ago about his music writing and my academic writing and there were four things that we agreed we had in common.

(1) What to do when you don’t know what to do

Musician: When you don’t know what you do you just go into the studio and lay down bits of stuff. Good ideas often come from just playing around, trying things out.

Academic: When you don’t know what to do you can just go to the study and write about anything. Good ideas often come from just playing around, trying things out.

(2) What to do when you can’t work out how to best develop the idea

Musician: You have to know what’s at the cutting edge. That means seriously and regularly reading the most up to date magazines, going to gigs and networking face to face and online with other people who have the same interest in finding out what’s going on.

Academic: You have to know what’s hot and what’s being debated. That means seriously and regularly reading the journals, going to conferences, networking face to face and online with other people who have the same interest in finding out what’s going on.

(3) What to do when you don’t know if anyone’s interested in what you have to offer

Musician: You have to put it out there and then you have to read the crowd. If what you are doing isn’t keeping them up and dancing then you have to mix it up – sometimes that means calling on a tried and tested crowed pleaser.

Academic: You have to put it out there and then you have to actively see what people think. If what you are doing isn’t getting published or isn’t making any dent in the current debates or you’re not informing policy or practice, then you have to mix it up. You might even have to switch to a topic or genre that is more likely to get taken up.

(4) What to do if you can’t seem to make it work

Musician: Sometimes, in fact quite often, you have half an idea, you have some of the tune but no chorus or you have a killer riff and no lyrics… and then you just have to sit with it until it comes to you… which it usually does. It just takes as long as it takes. Sometimes that’s quite quick, other times it’s a long wait.

Academic: Sometimes, in fact quite often, you have half an idea, you have an analysis and no angle, or you have an argument but it needs some theory, and then you just have to sit with it until it comes to you… which it usually does. It just takes as long as it takes. Sometimes that’s quite quick, other times it’s a long wait.

What’s interesting is that while everyone would easily accept that making music is creative, it’s a lot less common to think about academic writing as creative. This is probably because the whole process of writing is seen as some kind of technical process or something that we just do… but it seems to me that we might learn a bit if we made a conscious effort to think about the parallels between our academic work and that of other creative people.

Do you agree? Which creative practice do you think is like academic work?

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About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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4 Responses to what do academic writing and dance music have in common?

  1. Rosemary Bennett says:

    Loved this one Pat! Please say hi to Michael for me – and YES writing is just like creating in the arts, you just need to keep on keeping on! Rosemary :-)

  2. Jane McGregor says:

    Perceptive and useful as usual. Did you make your responses separately at first? Jane

  3. Megan says:

    As an artist, and now also ed researcher I see very little difference in practice, maybe a different way of describing/speaking about things. In art we talk about responses, in ed research – -problems…. But we mean the same thing – the what, why and how.

  4. Yep. Agree that the two are each creative practices. One involves writing. One involves music. Each involve thinking. To me, as musician and researcher, they parallel beautifully. My husband, who supervises a number of PhD candidates in music, and I wrote a paper that in part argues that the processes are near identical. Sometimes writing stuff doesn’t FEEL creative, but it is. Promise!

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