Monthly Archives: December 2016

Writing undressed

img_1259“Writing puts on its trousers one leg at a time, but we rarely see it in stages of undress.” (Colyar, 2009, p. 424)

[/Introduction placeholder/ How to start? What about audience? Tone? How am I pitching it? What’s my pitch?/ Find a quotation. Maybe Colyar? Main idea? *x*%&%! What about that dressing metaphor—weak? silly? Everything has probably been said before and said better in somebody else’s blog. Argh!]

Normally you won’t see writing in “stages of undress” as exemplified in the paragraph above. You only see the finished written product, the fully dressed book, essay, article, or blog post. To continue with this metaphor, usually only in our own writing do we witness the confusion of dressing: the false starts, the messy drafts, the placeholders, the marginalia, and the sentences to the self. Because of this, many of us have suffered from the thought, “it must be me. Other people get it all down beautifully the first time; others don’t struggle with writing the way I do.” Julia Colyar’s (2009) wonderful article “Becoming Writing, Becoming Writers” both explores and illustrates the rarely talked about process of thinking/writing:

My nonintroduction is a tool I use to propel the text forward, into the next paragraph, toward the meat of my argument. Ultimately, it will be rewritten,
and thus, seemingly out of order, written, and complete. The nudge-forward this placeholder paragraph provides is essential, because I will not come to understand my own argument until I have completed the initial draft. Only then will I know what I want to say, where the various sections connect, and how to revise the introduction. I cannot draw the roadmap until I know what the road looks like. I can’t start until I have already started. (p. 422)

She holds up a mirror to us as writers, showing us how we pull on mismatched socks, pick cat hairs off the suit jacket, stumble over our shoes. To get to spiffy writing with its trousers zipped, we have to experience the discomfort of dishabille. Colyar argues that we need to teach writing [at the graduate level] and talk regularly about the process of writing—to bring undressed writing out of the closet and into the open. In doing so, she hopes, we can demystify the often private process of academic writing.

I agree. After several years of teaching writing to graduate nursing students, I observed that fears about academic writing topped many students’ worry lists. I started my course with the question, “How do you write?” I invited students to talk about their processes, their stumbles, their mismatched socks. I asked them to share their writing-to-learn drafts, their vulnerabilities, and their concerns. I encouraged them to relax.  I wanted (and want) to help students worry less and write more.

Please consider describing your own writing journey for this blog.  Email me, Madeline Walker

And if you’d like to talk about your writing and/or get support, please drop by the Centre for Academic Communication or register online to meet with a tutor.  We love to talk about writing: undressed, dressed, and all the stages in between.


Colyar, J. (2009). Becoming writing, becoming writers. Qualitative Inquiry 15(2), 421–436.   doi 10.1177/1077800408318280


Our blog

We at the Centre for Academic Communication (CAC) are excited to launch this resource for graduate students.  Starting in 2017, we’ll be blogging bi-weekly with juicy material on writing your thesis or dissertation and  surrounding issues. We’ll be reaching out instructors, students, and staff to provide guest posts.  Is there an academic writing topic you want to share about? We’re interested in topics from technology to terror of public speaking. Do you have a story to tell about your own writing journey as you develop your thesis or dissertation?  Are you a faculty member with wisdom you’d like to impart?  Please email Madeline Walkercropped-cropped-cropped-2110144017-2.jpg at and sketch your idea or story in 250 words (final blog posts will be 300-800 words).

Check out the Thesis Writing Starter Kit and the Dissertation Writers’ Resource for lots of information (see menus at top of page).

The Centre for Academic Communication will re-open for regular tutoring appointments on January 9th, 2017. Our experienced tutors can help you with all aspects of academic communication, from pre-writing to presentations.