Writer’s block: a sticky story

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(Activity 2.2)

In my last post, I ended up by saying that I often think too big about the situations I want to address – global warning, world peace, health inequalities and the entire UK public sector!   I suppose that is consistent with the approach to use of Systems in TU811 – there we worked on situations requiring strategic interventions and our assignments focused on distant news stories.

That approach does not seem right for TU812, where there is much more of a focus on you as a practitioner in everyday situations.  I therefore need to think more local, more immediate…..well more….everyday.

So I need to think of a story that is with me in the here and now.  But not one that is so personal that I cannot write it or publish it.  That’s the problem really – if you talk about the bigger-than-self problems* you and those around you can be quite anonymous or even invisible.  But in immediate stories, you are telling a story about yourself and your colleagues – you are the news item.

In his article, Self-narration in social life, Gergen** proposes a relational view of self-conception – one that views self-conception as discourse about the self.  So writing a story which includes me as a player reveals who I think I am  – I can make myself a hero, a victim, an innocent bystander – not just from the story I choose to tell but from the way I choose to tell it.

Gergen also explains that the features of a good narrative account are culturally determined and one of the key features is that the story’s endpoint is weighted with value.  Here I have a problem, immediate stories of sticky situations often don’t have a nice endpoint.  You tell them and the reader is left in mid-air, there is no resolution, just the sense that the players could be in that messy, frustrating situation for ever.

You may have realised by now that I am avoiding telling a story – it is more than that, I can’t even select a discreet event.  In the spirit of reflexivity, I am wondering whether this is a problem of the way I think about what I do when I do what I do.  In my own head, I think I am quite good at reflecting on day to day events but there is something about setting out to deliberately frame it as a story with me in it.  I do find it hard to put myself in the picture even where I think of a positive situation.   Come to think of it, when I last had a job interview, I really floundered on the first warm-up question which invited me to tell the panel about a piece of work and the part I played in making it successful.  It is even more difficult when I have to place myself as a player in a sticky, unresolved situation – as a player I am responsible.

This is an interesting insight but where do I go from here?

On the one hand, I think that immersion therapy is the answer – I should just write something even if I don’t publish.

On the other hand I feel the need to reframe my view on what a narrative achieves – what its purpose is.  I think my fear is based on seeing the story as a system to expose yourself in order for people (including myself) to be critical of who I am and what I do.  However, TU812 frames the story as a system to explore the meaning that a situation has for you in order to enable critical reflection, including reflexivity.

So here I am not knowing how to finish this post.  One endpoint that would leave me with a sense of elation would be a short story.  Or I leave it here, a story about not being able to write stories – unresolved like all the real world sticky situations.

* A phrase I have coined as a result of its use in Common Cause: The case for working with our cultural values.

**Gergen . K.J. (1994) Realities and Relationships: Soundings in Social Construction, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, Chapter 8 [reprinted in Wetherell, M., Taylor, S. and Yates, S. (2001) Discourse Theory and Practice: A reader, The Open University/Sage Publications, Milton Keynes/London, Reading 18.]

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