Poem: Astrophile

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Poem: Astrophile

Alone, Artemis stood by the road,
Lingering in the caress of exhaust fumes.

It was a night fletched with leaves of amber and honey
That danced in the spotlights of street lamps,
Cut off from Orion by mist.

She watched a dog
Attempting to rest its hind-quarters on the cold tarmac.
It stared into the fluorescent lights of the take-away,
Waiting for its master to return,
Tail between legs; a quivering loyalty.

She didn’t shoot the dog.

 

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Dissertation Drama Week #3

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Dissertation Drama Week #3

I didn’t want to bombard you with these posts, so I thought I’d make them fortnightly.

This fortnight has seen my dissertation get some semblance of a structure, and gain an actual word count. It’s been quite eventful and I feel I’m gaining something of a rhythm.

Let’s talk about what I’ve learnt.

  1. Re-reading articles is sometimes well worth the time. – There were a few articles that I read while I was applying for my master’s programme, and a few that were set as reading during the course, which I knew would be useful, but thought I could get by without re-reading. However, upon re-reading ‘What is fanfiction and why are people saying such nice things about it?’ by Bronwen Thomas, I realised I was very wrong. When you read academically, you often read with purpose, looking for connections to particular ideas. I knew Thomas’ article would be useful as a background to the general research area. What I’d completely forgotten is how it goes on to talk about the effect of fanfiction on our ideas of narrative, a concept I’m now incorporating into my dissertation. Re-read my friends. Re-read.
  1. Writing waffle can be constructive. – After writing my introduction for my dissertation tutor, I turned to my literature review. Now, I know most of what I want to talk about in this section, but I’ve been finding it quite tricky to visualise how to connect the ideas. However, I’ve found that by writing the ideas down and fleshing them out, I can begin see how they work together on paper. That’s not to say what I’ve written is golden (far from it), but at least it’s there, and when I start editing, I’ll have something to play around with.
  1. Not having lectures makes research somewhat easier. – While I’ve learnt a lot this year, and am very appreciative of the work put in by the lecturers, it was somewhat stressful having to juggle lectures, reading for lectures and essay writing and reading for essays. I’m still juggling now, and making sure I’ve actually read enough to be able to write a section is difficult, but it is good not to have to down tools and disappear off to university for three hours (including walking time). This is a level of stress I can deal with comfortably, and hopefully it will stay this way.
  1. Literature reviews are not the star of the show (and 4k might be a bit much). – After having spoken to my dissertation tutor about my plan, I mentioned how surprised I was that the recommended word count for the literature review was so high. He was also surprised, and suggested I aim for something like 3k. He argued that the lit review isn’t really the star of the show, but if written poorly it will lose you marks. Therefore, it’s better to make it slightly shorter, to discourage yourself from getting to descriptive and uncritical. Personally, I would recommend asking your dissertation tutors about their preferences. At the end of the day they’re the one who’s going to be marking it (at least they do at UoB).
  1. Talking things through helps. – I’ve always considered writing to be my safe zone. I am good at communicating through writing. Even when I’m typing on my tiny phone keyboard and I make numerous errors with my human sized thumbs, my friends can usually understand me. But articulating ideas out loud is something I’m still working on. I can write an good essay in a couple of weeks, but ask me to summarise my research verbally and my brain turns to mush. However, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. And actually, the more I do, the clearer my work gets, as people ask follow up questions, or nod excitedly at the sound of a coherent idea. Am I still struggling over the basic question of “What linguistic model are you using?” Uh, yes. Definitely. But I can now answer, “What’s your research about?” with a level of confidence.

My aims for my next meeting are to have written a draft of my literature review and pinned down what data I want to use (which may alter depending on some ethical concerns). Currently, I’ve done about 2/3 of that…and I’ve only been going since Monday. I’m hoping to exceed that writing goal, as we’re expected to hand in as much of a draft as possible by the end of June, and I’ve calculated I’d need to average 2k a week to finish the thing. That would then give me the rest of summer to edit it into something that actually resembles a good piece of research.

Wish me luck.

And good luck to those of you in the same position!

Best,

EM.

Writing Writ #2: Writing believable characters of the opposite gender.

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Writing Writ #2: Writing believable characters of the opposite gender.

For some reason, writing believable characters of the opposite gender has become this elusive thing that many writers seem to struggle with. So much so, that when I submitted a section of my undergraduate dissertation to a seminar group, the PhD student who was running it asked me, “What research have you done to write such a good male character?”

She was not pleased to learn I hadn’t done any.

Weirdly, I’ve never really struggled with writing characters of the opposite gender, beyond the odd biological query that comes from not having lived with the most common male particulars.

If you’re here, I’m not judging. Honestly, if it’s something you struggle with, then better you look up some guidance than write the next Belinda Blinked (although…actually, I do need something to tide me over until My Dad Wrote a Porno returns in August).

So the following are some tips and activities to help you with writing believable characters of the opposite gender. I hope they prove useful.

Disclaimer: When I talk about the opposite gender in this article, I am talking cis folks (folks who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth). While I do have some experience writing trans characters, I feel like that topic is a separate blog post, with its own array of issues that cis folks do not have to deal with. It certainly needs more time and thought than I can spare today. I might tackle it at a later date…when The End of Atlas is finished.

 

Step 1:

Start with character, not gender. – This may be harder for some than it is for others, but writing good characters of the opposite gender basically boils down to writing good characters. Full stop.  This doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to make your women girly or you men macho. It does, however, mean that that character trait has to be realistic. For instance, a business woman might like jewellery a lot, but how often have you seen one squeal like a little girl on opening a gift box? And an army man might seem stoic most of the time, but chances are his eyes are going to water if someone bends his arm backwards. Build your characters as real human beings who react to things like a human, not like their stereotype.

Step 2:

Gender swap.  – Take a character that you’re struggling with, and swap their gender. Write just a short scene, perhaps with them interacting with some of your stronger characters. Once you’re done, read it through. What have you changed about the character, and why have you changed it? Are those changes necessary biological differences, or have you made them purely based on your preconceptions of how a man or woman should be? For example, if you have a woman changed to a man who now speaks with a low baritone instead of a soft tenor, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye lid. If the same swap causes your character to suddenly start flirting with everything in a skirt, when previously they were very shy, you have a problem.

Step 3:

Question yourself. – There was a passage floating around the internet recently about a woman who wakes up having had very little sleep. She saunters to the mirror, and thinks about how demure her black bags make her look. Then she goes about sliding things over her various body parts. The kicker? This woman’s sister had just been murdered (hence the lack of sleep). Now look, I get it. We’ve all fallen in love with a fiction character from time to time. But when it comes to grief over a loved one, nobody’s thinking about how cute their raccoon eyes look. And I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t take my time to slide on clothes in a seductive manner for my unseen narrator. Do you? Look at what you’ve written, and ask yourself would you write that if your character was a different gender? If you wouldn’t, then it’s time to re-write.

Step 4:

Get the biology right. – There are some very basic things that we don’t necessarily understand about the bodies of the opposite sex (note sex, not gender). But if you have access to Google, you have access to the resources you need to get the biology down. Wondering how women deal with their time of the month? Google. Want to know what really happens if a bloke crosses his legs to fast? Google.  And if for some reason you can’t use Google, ask someone in the real world. There are plenty of men and plenty of women on this planet. However, remember that the life of the opposite gender is not entirely driven by the body parts they were given. I, for one, do not spend every waking minute wondering when my period will start, and I’d be very confused if you started writing a female character who did this and wasn’t concerned about accidental pregnancy or suffering from some form of mental illness. Get the biology right, but only use it when you need it.

Step 5:

If in doubt, read. – Find yourself a novel that you know is likely to be badly written. Think Twilight, Women in Love or even a John Grisham novel. Then try to pick apart why the representation of a particular gender is poor. Make a list of five things they could improve on, and then make sure you’re not doing those things in your writing.

 

At the end of the day, anything you struggle with will take practice to perfect. Personally, I only discovered how to use commas in dialogue properly last year, and I’m still slip up when I’m not paying attention. Work hard, and you’ll get there. Also, if you’re not already in a writing group, or have a beta reader who gives decent criticism, GET GOING. I cannot stress enough how important a second pair of eyes can be for a writing project, so I’m just going to keep saying this.

Now, I apologise if there are any errors in this, but I’m going to have to sprint out of the door to meet a friend (I planned to finish this last night…but then I went into a short story trance and never came up for air.) Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

Best,

EM.

P.S. Feature image is a page from the My Dad Wrote a Porno book. Not for the prudish of heart, but a good laugh if you’re into bad writing and ridiculously unsexy sex scenes. Sorry Rocky, we love you!

Dissertation Drama: Week 1

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Dissertation Drama: Week 1

Last Friday (28th of April) I had an informal first meeting with my dissertation supervisor, launching me into the final leg of my master’s degree and Dissertation Drama: Week 1. For those of you who don’t know, my dissertation will be an analysis of the different kinds of creativity used in fanfiction, as well as the notions of authenticity involved (at least at the moment).

Not gonna lie, I left that first meeting feeling mildly nauseous. I’ve never written a piece of research longer than 4k before. The End of Atlas is currently over 80k, but I feel like creative pieces are somewhat different to extended academic research…maybe because I’ve been working on that since I was 7-years-old.

But I know I’m capable of writing a 15k dissertation. It is something I can do. Step by step. And I thought, perhaps, y’all would like to come on this magical journey with me.

Everything I’ve learnt about writing a dissertation in Week 1:

  1. All supervisors differ – Having spoken to one of my course mates, and friends who’ve also done a master’s at UoB, I’ve noticed that they seem to have pretty different descriptions of how their supervisor approaches(ed) helping a student deal with their dissertation. Some are strict, dictating what they expect by the next meeting, others are more flexible. I imagine, in part, it’s due to the kind of students they’ve dealt with in the past, or maybe they just have a different approach to teaching in general. The key thing to remember is, whoever you’ve got, you need to learn how to work with them. Be flexible and be motivated. Keep going.

 

  1. Having a diary/notebook is key – During lectures, you take notes. When you read, you take notes. When you’re working on your dissertation TAKE NOTES. And do it in a way that works for you. Back when I started throwing ideas around, I bought myself a standard notebook, and made the first two pages into and Index/Contents page, bullet journal style. I don’t keep a bullet journal, but I figured the Contents page element would be super useful, given that it’s almost guaranteed I’m going to need to flick back and look at my notes on something at some point.

 

  1. Literature reviews should be about 4k – Here’s the thing…I’ve never written a literature review before. A number of friends had to do one in the first year of their undergrad as part of the “Independent Study Module” they all had to take. Problem was, as a creative writer, I didn’t take that module. This year, however, a number of lecturers have brought up literature reviews when talking about essays, mainly to say, “Don’t waste 1000 words just talking about background literature. Sow the criticism of other works throughout your essay.” Then I started sketching my plan, based on a dissertation without a “Literature Review” section…but with a 4k Methodology section. It wasn’t until I dug back through my notes, and spoke to a few friends that I realised, yup, a literature review is about 4/5k of a dissertation. Glad I noticed that one.

 

  1. There is always more to talk about – Going into this, I thought I would only need to talk about models of authenticity and highlight the one’s I was going to need to use. By the end of my first week, I’m now up to three model areas I’m probably going to need to discuss: authenticity, creativity and narrative. I already know the models I’m likely to use, but the wonder of that sneaky 4k literature review, means that Imma have to find out what models I’m not using too 😉

 

And that’s about it for Dissertation Drama: Week 1. I’m hoping these entries will help me keep track of everything, but will also prove useful for others in my situation. If you’ve just started your dissertation, I’d be interested to know what you’ve learnt so far. And if you’re a veteran dissertation writer…hit me up with your hints. Come at me bro, plz 😉

Best,

EM.

Writing Writ #1: Find Your Own Voice

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Writing Writ #1: Find Your Own Voice

You hear this a lot when you’re a fiction writer. You need to find you voice, write with vision, have a perspective. And when you hear those words you think, Oh, go away, you pretentious git. And I don’t blame you. The people who tell you that you need to “find your own voice”, without any further guidance, are pretentious gits.

But the fact still remains, if you want to write well, you do need to write with your own voice.

So, how does one find this voice?

 

Step 1:

Start keeping a journal – This sounds almost as pretentious as telling you to use your own voice, but please, trust me for a minute. By a cheap ass notebook, and just scribble some thoughts down. Don’t make them frilly. Don’t pretend some great literary historian is going to end up reading them when you’re famous (~coughs~ totally didn’t do that myself ~coughs~). Write like you’re talking to a friend. Be as colloquial as you want to be and just word vomit onto paper a few times a week.

Step 2:

Copy the voices you love – Make a short list of the writer’s you really love, and trying mimicking their style. Don’t go for a full novel. Dream up a character and a short scenario, and write with the voice of a writer you admire. One of my favourites to copy was Douglas Adams, which you can see in Moving Day. His jovial, semi-sarcastic wit is so specifically him, but it’s great fun to play with.

Step 3:

Pin point what it is that you like – Once you’ve had your fun playing with that voice, it’s time to get analytical. What is it that you like about that voice? Is it the wit, like myself with Adams? Is it the simple, clean prose, like myself and Graham Greene? Or is it the fluid presentation of thoughts …like me and every modernist I’ve ever loved?

Step 4:

Blend those voices – Now comes the tricky bit. Now, you need to take all the bits you like about the work of other writers, and apply it to your own work. Sounds complicated? How can you mix Adams’ wit, with Greene’s prose, and Woolf’s stream of consciousness? First off, relax, because here’s the thing; you’re never going to sound like all of them. And that’s fine, because that’s not the aim. The aim is to sound like you, but to develop the bits that you like the most about their writing in your own. That diary you’ve been keeping (right?) get that out, and have a read through what you’ve written. You’ll likely find you’re already doing some of those things you love so much. However, you may also find you sound like you’re up your own arse (thanks, Woolf) or that you’re close to murdering everyone (cheers, Adams) or that you manage to write a whole paragraph without giving any context for what’s happening (Greene! My man!). Once you see these things, you can start to blend the voices together better. Ease up on the 1920’s English, tone down the sarcasm and pop in a few more adjectives.

Step 5:

Figure out what you bring to the table – This isn’t exactly easy to do for yourself, which is why I always advocate sharing your work with trusted friends/ family/ writers. In my case, it was my lecturer, Dr Richard House, who made me realise what I added (although I’m fairly certain my mum had told a very small Emma something similar). When Richard read the opening to The End of Atlas, he said to me that I had a very filmic writing style. At the time, I thought this was really odd way to describe it, but I’ve come to realise that it’s how my mind works. When I’m writing fiction, I see things as if it’s a film playing in my head. I see the shots, and the look, and I target the elements of the scene to describe which I think will have the biggest impact. Knowing this helped me see how I was holding three very different voices together. Simplicity, fluidity and hella humour, woven together with a filmic structure. That is how I like to roll.

Step 6:

Acceptance – Finally, there’s one small thing you need to know and accept. You’re never going to stop fiddling around with your voice. Mainly because, if you’re any good at writing, you’re never going to write the exact same character twice (unless you’re writing a novel series). Even if you don’t write in first person (like myself), and you rely on a third person narrator, your characters will inevitably have some influence over the tone of your narration, and you will certainly need to be able to adapt your voice for dialogue. Writing is as much about acting as it is about prose. However, don’t be disheartened. Having a sense of your own voice will 1) help you pick the projects that you’re going to enjoy the most, and 2) figure out when your character is just you in disguise (I’m looking at you John Green).

 

If I’m honest with myself, I do worry about where I’ll go after The End of Atlas is finally finished. I’ve become so familiar with the voice of Alec, my protagonist, that he kind of feels like home. But I know, when the time comes, I’ll pick up the parts of him that are me and develop a new character, and a new project which I’ll hopefully enjoy just as much.

Hope you’re enjoying your Saturday!

Best,

E.M.

P.S. Today’s featured image is a small snapshot of an essay I wrote before Easter…in which I sound like Dr Seuss.

Kit the Kat: Warning – May Contain Copious Cat Pictures

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Kit the Kat: Warning – May Contain Copious Cat Pictures

This week marks the 2 year anniversary of me accidentally adopting Kit the cat. Those of you who don’t know the story are probably thinking, oh she went to a shelter not meaning to get a cat, and got a cat. You’re wrong.

In honour of Kit’s 5th birthday (I mean it’s all guess work. We only have a rough idea of how old he is, and no idea when he was born) I thought I would regale you all with the tale of how he came into my life…and the trouble he’s got into since.

In the Beginning:

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“IT Cat” next to the IT building.

It was early 2016 when I started noticing a tabby and white cat hanging around theIT building on the University of Birmingham’s campus. Every day, twice a day, he’d trot up to say hello as I walked to and from work. Sometimes, when I went out for lunch, I’d see him being fussed by students on their way to class. One girl sat on the floor with him in her lap, and he smiled as she scratched his chin in the good spot.

I quickly started referring to this charming chap at “IT cat” and would always pause to chat for a few minutes. He was every bit the socialite. I thought maybe he was the Vice-Chancellor’s (who had a house nearby) or that someone was bringing him to work, and letting him roam. One day I noticed a dish and a cat box had been left tucked into the corner of the IT building, and someone had propped a couple of carpet tiles around it. At the time, I thought that confirmed it.

Then, on the morning of the 19th of April (thank you 2016 diary), IT cat didn’t want to come out to say hello. He sat in the carrier with a wistful look. I frowned and thought, maybe he’s just tired. That evening on the way home he was loafed under a tree, and again, he wouldn’t come and talk to me. He seemed lethargic.

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Kit still doesn’t like carriers. But his new one is a better size, so he’ll step in.

So I made a decision. I would go home and come back later, and if he was still there at 10 pm I would take him home and get him scanned for a microchip. I needed some peace of mind. I went back to my flat, dumped my stuff and went shopping. On top of my usual groceries, I bought a washing up bowl, some tuna and a bag of Sainsbury’s cheapest cat litter. I figured that if IT cat wasn’t there, I could still make use of everything (cat litter is great for melting snow to get cars out). Then I went home, had tea, and waited.

I drove back to campus and pulled up as close to the IT building as I could get, then walked the rest of the way. I sighed with relief when I couldn’t see him. And then I thought, better check properly.

I looked in the cat carrier, but he wasn’t there, and then I peered under the bushes. I couldn’t really see him to begin with. It was pretty dark, and the street lights weren’t doing a great job of penetrating the shrubbery. However, there he was, curled up in ball, fur fluffed as big as it would go. I put my hand out and he sniffed it. I gave him a fuss and he got very excited and came out for more pets.

I opened up the little tub of tuna I’d brought with me, and gave him some on the edge of my finger.

What followed was about half an hour of me trying to trick him, tempt him and wrestle him into the cat box, so I could get him in the car. He wasn’t having it. In the end, we came to a compromise. I gave up and carried him. He was happy to go along with that. I put him on the front seat, and then went back for the dish and the box. Then I drove us home. He very much enjoyed the trip around the back of the hospital. He was mesmerised by all the lights going passed the windows.

I took him up to the flat and let him have a roam. He had a walk around for a bit, and then disappeared under my bed. I sighed and guessed I’d be sharing my bunk with a furry friend. I popped an antihistamine (because yes, I am allergic).

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The furry pile of contentment.

When I got back from the bathroom there was a furry pile of contentment on my bed, purring away. I got into bed, and lay on my stomach. He immediately climbed on my back and started purring in my ear.

That night is by far the worst nights sleep I have ever had. He never stopped purring, he kept moving to get closer to my head, and at one point he got up and went to the bathroom, then leapt right into my face as I opened my eyes to check on him. After that, I vowed never again.

The Search:

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The picture from Kit’s found posters.

The next day, I cocooned IT cat in my hoodie and wedged him into the cat carrier. He was not amused. Then I drove to the nearest vets. He meowed at me all the way there, and I sang to calm him down.

The vet was happy to scan him free of charge, but found no chip. She tried through the box, and then took the lid off and tried again. No luck. Then she confirmed he was a neutered male, and sent us on our way. I took him home then went out to buy him some proper food and a little bird toy…because I guessed he might be staying a while.

That night I took some pictures and posted them on as many lost cat sites as I could find. Then I printed some posters. On the way to work, I sellotaped a few along my route. On the way back, I stopped in at the IT building. They told me that they’d noticed him just after they came back from the Christmas break, and they’d been feeding him.They also said that they’d phoned the Vice Chancellor’s PA and it definitely wasn’t his. He didn’t have a cat. You cannot understand the relief that comes from knowing you hadn’t kidnapped your bosses bosses boss’s cat.

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Another photo I used online.

Someone recommended I try posting about IT cat to a bunch of Facebook pages, so I did that as well. I even put him on Gumtree. But his owner never came forward, and suddenly I had a whole bunch of choices to make.

Naming and Housing:

A lot of people I’ve spoken to have said they think Kit is a clever name, I think because they assume he’s named after KitKats? However, the name came about because I didn’t want to give him a name. I didn’t think he’d be around for long enough, and I didn’t want to confuse him for when he went back to his owners. So, like the proper Welsh bird I truly am, I started calling him “Kit”, like “pet” or “love” or “chick”. I also frequently started asking him, “What’s occurin’?” a phrase I had never before used in my life. He seemed to like it and would meow cheerily.

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Playing with his bird.

But then…he started reacting to “Kit”. And suddenly, IT cat had a name. Although, privately I now call him Christofurr Coopurr. I enjoy how it makes him sound like a PI. Plus I get to yell, “Christofurr!” when he’s doing something naughty.

The next issue was that, I wasn’t allowed pets in my building, so I knew I couldn’t keep him around for long. Particularly when he started meowing and scratching at my bedroom door at 3 am. None of my cat loving friends were in a position to take him in, and I felt like I’d be a little heart broken if I had to leave him in a shelter.

Fortunately, my mum stepped in. She said they’d have him at home in Wales, until I had a living situation that Kit would be happy in. Given that my family are mainly dog people, this was something of a miracle. I drove him down, and left him there with my family, where the cheeky monster still is. They all love him to pieces.

Present Day Kit:

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Kit’s ankle x-ray after surgery.

Kit is still a little charmer. Unless you’re a child (he really doesn’t like kids), he will come strutting over to you in the hopes that you’ll pet him. Preferably on the top of his head, but you can do his chin if you do it properly. And if you catch him on a good day, he’ll let you pick him up for a bit to give him a cuddle.

Just before Christmas, he mysteriously broke his ankle. He did time for this crime and cost me a fortune in vet bills (insure your pets folks!). But he’s been on the mend.

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Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time, Kit.

Of course, this week, he gave us all a scare. His walking suddenly went wonky and Mum rushed him to the vets. They discovered the pin had moved in his ankle. So yesterday we waited, with baited breath, to find out if he’d have to have the joint frozen with a plate.

Thankfully it looks like the body was just rejecting the pin because it wasn’t needed anymore. The vets took it out, popped a stitch in, and as of last night, Kit was walking much better…although a little drunkenly from the anaesthetic.

Fingers crossed, my mysterious Mr. Kit doesn’t do himself any further mischeif in the near future. I love him to pieces, but he is a menace.

And because I couldn’t fit all of my favourite pictures into this…here’s some bonus ones 😀

Happy Birthday, buddy.

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Staying Sane Through Essay Pain

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Staying Sane Through Essay Pain

This week’s blog post comes to you from the small town of Irony (The Town of Irony is an excellent name for a book by the way. I called it, it’s mine.) Since late February I have been in a place of constant stress, as I attempted to write one essay where I felt entirely clueless, one where my essay question hadn’t even been confirmed, and another that involved copious amounts of maths…MATHS (I’m a linguistics student for those who don’t know.)

So I’m not sure I’m 100% qualified to be writing this. In fact, I’m definitely not, as I’m not a psychologist/psychiatrist or any kind of certified counsellor. I’m just a girl, standing in front of a mountain of work, asking it not to give me a stress induced heart attack at the age of 25.

However, now that I see the light at the end of the tunnel (I have 1700 words left to write, and then 4 re-drafts to do) I can also see the things I’ve been doing that have really helped me push through this mess. And I thought they might come in handy for folks that I know are still working like me…and for the dissertation hurdle yet to come. Thus, I depart my widsom:

1. Snacks
Find snacks that bring you joy and, if you can manage it, that have few calories. I have become and in this particular area over the last 2 months. My cupboard and freezer are now stocked with Wotsits, Bacon Frazzles, frozen Froobs and Mars Bar Ice Creams. All of which remind me of being a kid, running round the playground and genuinely wanting to learn about everything, while not putting me into a food coma. These are foods that aren’t just about stress eating, but are about bringing a bit of glee to life. Go forth, find your favourites, and make sure you have a variety to choose from.

2. Meditation 
I hate meditation. Or at least I did. Up until 9 days ago, I really didn’t get it. I’d tried the Calm app…where the woman is positively condescending. I’d tried the odd practice from Youtube, which often go off on a weird spiritual ramble that jars with me greatly. I’d even tried, you know, sitting in silence…but that wasn’t exactly effective given that I need a visual (imagined image), verbal (music/podcast) and physical (hand on chest breathing) stimulus to concentrate on, just to switch off properly and sleep. However, 9 days ago I gave the Headspace app a try. The bloke’s voice is very down to earth, and the guidelines are simple, but really work for me. I use it as a gentle way to ease myself in to the day, and I’d recommend giving it a go, even if you’ve struggled with meditation before.

3. Vent, But Don’t Volcano
In times of stress, we need to vent. Whether it’s rambling to a parent on the phone, putting all caps messages into the group chat, or going downstairs to “make coffee” and spending an hour talking to your housemate about how much you hate everything, venting is a necessity. But, at a certain point, talking and talking and talking means that you’re not getting anything done. You’re just making yourself and everyone around you miserable. There’s letting off steam, and then there’s releasing lava, destroying the villages on the island, and generally making a mess of everything. It’s fine to talk about how stressed you are, just make sure you’re working on making yourself not stressed at some point in the future. Write the essay, don’t just complain about it, because it will only make things worse in the long run.

4. Routine
Around March time, I finally managed to get back into a routine and it’s done wonders. Sometimes I don’t want to wake up at 7:30, sometimes I sleep in until 8:30, but usually by 9/9:30 I’m up, dressed, fed and ready to start doing things. I start with any practical life stuff: laundry, washing-up, shopping. Then make a drink, sit down and work on my essay. I normally stop for lunch at around 12/12:30, depending on how engrossed I am, and how hungry I am, and give myself an hour to eat something tasty and watch something that doesn’t require a lot of brain power (thank you Netflix and Great British Bake Off). After that, another drink is made and more work is done, until 17:30, when I start making tea and switch off my laptop for the evening. Having scheduled time for me has been a real mood changer (and I finally reached the end of Borderlands 2, after almost a year).

5. Do Before You Think
A long time ago I encountered a Tedx Talk called “How to stop screwing yourself over” by Mel Robbins. During this talk, she states a simple fact, that we are never going to feel like doing the things we need to do, to be everything we’re capable of being. Harsh truth, but true truth. She also brings up the concept of activation energy, the energy required to get us to do something that veers away from autopilot. For example, stop eating pizza in bed and get up and write your essay. Robbins suggests it takes about 3 seconds to talk yourself out of doing something. In those three seconds, you have to force yourself, to apply that activation energy and do the thing.

Personally, I find it easier to get to work from an upright position. So, say I’m in bed, I think, “Let’s go get a drink.” I go downstairs, I make the drink, and when I get back upstairs, I don’t get back in the bed, I sit down at my desk. Lure myself out of my nest with warm beverages, and suddenly I’m in front of an essay. May as well write while I’m there, yeah?

Don’t let yourself sit there and think about how hard your essay is going to be to write, how it’s never going to be good enough anyway, how it’s going to take so much time and you want to go see your friends (although, please do schedule time for friends. Don’t be an essay hermit. That’s not good). Instead, get up, get dressed, sit down, write essay. Do it, before you have time to think about it.

6. Do the Freaking Do
I wanted to have a nice neat 5 tip blog post, but honestly, I can’t emphasise the importance of doing enough. And the most important thing is, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT. The first draft of your essay should be a mess. It should have citation errors, and poor paragraphing, and a section of method that you forgot to wedge in. Don’t focus on getting it perfect the first time. Focus on getting something on paper. There’s nothing quite so relieving as having this abstract “essay” become a physical concrete thing. It becomes more manageable and less stressful, because okay, it’s not fantastic, but the words and ideas are there. All you need to do is carve away the bits that don’t matter, and polish up the features that do. So get the thing down on paper/computer screen. It’ll make you feel at least 70% happier with life.

And that’s your lot. At least for now. I may revisit stress management when I’m knee deep in dissertation and need to discuss further ways of keeping my sanity. If any of y’all have tried and tested suggestions I’d be interested (more than interested) to hear them.

As an advanced warning, next week’s blog post will be full of cat pictures, so bring tissues if you have allergies.

Best,

Em.