How might wayfinding apply to doctoral writing?

If you aren't sure what wayfinding is, check out this post and this post.

In this post, I connect the concept of wayfinding with other concepts such as the writing process, as well as obstacles, blocks, and otherwise sticky places we find ourselves in.

Imagine driving down a familiar road...

In their article on stuckness and doctoral writing, Wisker and Savin-Baden (2009) suggest that the opposite of being stuck is ‘finding flow’ (after Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, as cited in Savin-Baden, 2008). However, the data from my interviews, and to some extent the survey (more on this research later), suggest that finding flow is a journey that involves navigation. For example, the following account from a student who participated in a structured interview is interesting because he emphasises navigation around the obstacle (e.g., the need to ‘find an alternative way’ to the destination).

Imagine driving down a familiar road that you took almost daily when you were growing up. You know the turns, the normal flow of traffic; the way home. Fifteen years go by, your family moved long ago. You decide to check out the old house and, when driving there, you find the road is blocked by heavy construction equipment. There’s no way around. As far as you can remember, your parents never took any other way [. . .] Seeing the blocked road, you want to get [to the house] even more. And now you have to find an alternative way to get there. You search your memory for alternatives, brainstorm ways to get there. Maybe you can hop the barrier and walk the rest of the way? Maybe there’s a back road somewhere?  (Arts and Social Sciences, Year 2)

Similarly, challenges with being stuck were often described elsewhere in my data as challenges with a sense of direction. For example, participants’ survey responses identified experiences that included an ‘uncertainty with direction’ (Public Affairs, YR 3, Survey), and a ‘lack of clarity regarding goals and direction of paper’ (Arts & Social Sciences, YR 7, Survey).  Students from the focus groups drew on words like ‘unmoored,’ ‘circles,’ ‘trapped,’ and ‘chasm’ to describe being stuck. Though phrases like ‘going around in circles’ are reported elsewhere as common to experiences with both stuck places and writer’s block (Hjortshoj, 2001; Kiley, 2009, 2015), the emphasis in my data seems to be on navigation and on using a variety of strategies to aid navigation.

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