Popcorn writing and the benefits of movie nights

By Alison McCandlish

Popcorn” flickr photo by Alan Cleaver shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

When reflecting upon my writing style, I came to a realisation that I often have a lot of ideas, yet sometimes do not know how to approach them or create the time to craft my words into a paper.  On occasion my ideas just flow out and before I know it I have an outline and an abstract, but sometimes there is not enough of “something” to make things work. That something reminded me of the process of making popcorn.

I really enjoy making proper popcorn in a pan, with a little oil and then flavouring it with different toppings. This process starts slowly, heat is applied to the oil and nothing happens for a while, then gradually kernels start to bound into action and move around with each other creating a beautiful toasty cloud of deliciousness. When I am in a state of positive writing, my ideas often come slowly, but then gradually I lose track of time, I’ve created the optimum conditions in that pan and once they start going it is an absolute treat to be absorbed in.  These popcorn kernels are a collection of all of my ideas, each one just sitting waiting to be cooked into a journal article, blog post or book chapter.

What happens to me when writing is difficult? Shaking the pan can help revive kernels, just shifting my writing environment has some sort of effect on me.  At busier time of the academic year other aspects of my role take over, and the thought of getting out a pan (creating my writing environment), kernels (ideas) and oil (equipment) and then all that cleaning (editing) just seems too much.   This is when I need to try pre-packaged microwave popcorn; ditching my preconceptions that it is cheating not to make my own and that processed food is bad.  I’m not suggesting plagiarism here, I’m thinking that when I use a writing skills book and try out some of the techniques to see what happens it might result in a tasty treat, or it might be a passing snack in an unloved flavour which I never have again, but at least I’ve still written a little to keep my hunger (need to write and publish) at bay. Unpopped kernels are confined to the food recycling bin.. similarly there will always be some ideas which no matter how hard I try will just not pop. This is a normal part of the writing process!

Plain popcorn can be a bit dull. This is when a recipe book comes in handy, follow the instructions of an editor and reviewer and hopefully I should get something helpful and tasty at the end.  Microwave popcorn is a thing of my youth; I loved creative writing when I was at school.. many a tale which now I wish I had kept.  Ultimately I need to remind myself that I actually have the ability to create any flavour I like, after all some people prefer sweet, others savoury, and I have even seen protein popcorn… someone, somewhere will like to consume my writing!  Movie nights are my writing groups; coming together to share ideas and work together with a sense of common purpose. Occasionally I have an access all areas event VIP pass to a writing retreat, but sometimes I sneak in a preview episode over lunch. 

Some of my current kernels are of different varieties, I have SoTL plans and a dream to revive a long neglected Masters project, as well as write my own book which may not be strictly academic.. but has the potential to be if I framed it that way.  My task ahead is trying not to let my freshly popped kernels go cold and back to the food waste… come and join me on a Friday write along and let’s try a movie night.

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