This article considers my engagement with two contrasting writing practices as part of my doctoral journey. I analyse and reflect upon extracts taken from progression reports and autoethnographic writing informed by work on genre affordances, writer identity and essayist literacy. My analysis indicates that the progression report genre offers limited possibilities for the construction of researcher identity and typically embeds a normative notion of research chronology and temporality. Furthermore, it permits limited opportunity for doctoral researchers to address affective and embodied aspects of their experience. I argue that this generic form of progress monitoring may inhibit forms of exploratory research, particularly those involving creative practice which can be inherently disorderly. In contrast, I explore how writing self-initiated autoethnographic vignettes permitted the construction of a more ambiguous discoursal identity within which I was able to explore aspects of embodiment, hesitancy and ‘not knowing’ as productive motifs. The affordances to explore personal experience, informality, evocation and open-endedness meant that I was able to experiment with the form of the writing (e.g. intertextuality) and narrative genres (e.g. the quest or journey) to approach research issues and dilemmas in an oblique way. I draw on Melissa Trimingham’s ‘hermeneutic-interpretative’ model, Theresa Lillis’s advocacy of juxtaposition and Guy Claxton’s TATE model to suggest that the progression process could be reconsidered, at the level of genre resources, to be better attuned to the rhythms and temporality of a more diverse range of approaches to research.