My Self-Inflicted Day Off

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My Self-Inflicted Day Off

My dissertation has been playing on my mind a lot lately. Not surprising as I now have about 6 weeks to get it done. I’m not far off the word count now, but I know I have to cut about 2k from it.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been shutting myself in my room and watching Netflix or talking to folks on Twitter, until I can summon the energy to write my daily word chunk. A word chunk, which I am only supposed to write on weekdays, but inevitably seem to end up doing on Saturday and Sunday as well, because I can’t seem to stop myself.

So, today – with a great deal of effort – I took a day off. And not just a day sat in front of the TV, but one which involved going outside and not working on my dissertation in any way, shape or form. I thought, instead of Dissertation Drama, you might like to join me on My Self-Inflicted Day Off.

 

Step 1: Talk to Friend Over Breakfast

This was kind of a happy accident. I had a phone call from a friend, just as I sat down to eat a bowl of cereal. Today she’s moving into her first house, so we talked battle plans while I munched on my Weetabix.

Step 2: Drop Off Books

My next task was to get rid of a few books from my tower of dissertation resources that I just wasn’t using. I know what you’re thinking, but it really wasn’t work. I was in it for the sunny walk across campus, and the quiet cool of UoB’s new library. I did, however, stop to help out a budding international student and what I assume was his mum. I knew the lost look on their faces as they stared at the campus map, so I pointed out his course hub and the registry office. Then I plodded on, returned my books and picked one up on intertextuality. I only read enough to know it was going to be useful. I promise!

Step 3: Retail Therapy

I then drove out to Longbridge, to the little high street they have there. I dropped into Boots (a drugstore chain here in the UK) and picked up some make-up remover, some shiny, shiny hairgrips and a really cheap charcoal mask, which I am super excited to try out.

Step 4: Sit in Coffee Shop and Write

It’s been weeks since I’ve sat and written, so I decided to build this into my day. I went to a Costa, grabbed a cooler and a slice of tiffin, and did some work on…what I’m currently calling Moon-Sitting. It’s a story I’ve been playing with alongside The End of Atlas. I thought it was going to be a short story, but it’s heading for a novella. I’m thinking about maybe self-publishing it on Amazon later this year, when I’m unemployed and have all the time in the world to work on my writing 😉 Anyway, I wrote a chunk of Lucky’s childhood and then dashed off to Sainsbury’s to grab some cereal.

Step 5: Do the Evening Thing

This evening, I plan on cooking myself a clean fry up (all the protein, less of the fat), eating ice cream, having fun with my new facemask, and playing video games until my heart’s content. The aim is to occupy myself enough that I don’t reach for my laptop for the rest of the evening, hence I’m writing this now to avoid stumbling onto my dissertation and 8 o’clock this evening.

 

Hopefully, I’ll be relaxed enough by the end of today that I’ll also make it through tomorrow without working. Then I can unleash myself on Monday, and murder a couple of tables and the rest of my Watson in fanfiction comparison in one go.

I hope you guys enjoyed this, or at least weren’t entirely bored by what is essentially a diary entry. What do you do to try and occupy yourself when you’re stressed out? Always open to suggestions 😉

Best,

EM.

P.S. Here’s a really pretty bonus pic of the library blending into the sky. It’s still a weird building, but it’s grown on me.

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#Goals: Review and Reset 2

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#Goals: Review and Reset 2

I’m currently recovering from spending 2 hours in a car with no air-conditioning in almost 30 degree heat (that’s in Celsius for American friends), so I’ll keep this quarter’s #Goals: Review and Reset short.

It’s been a tough few months, with essay deadlines and dissertation work abounding, but I’m quite impressed with what I’ve managed to achieve.

Review:

Deliver 2 more essays for MA by 23rd of April. – Complete. After the essay I wrote in March drove me mildly insane, it was a relief to move on. I was a little worried, as I’d set myself the challenge of writing 2 papers that required me to choose my own research topic, and neither subjects were theory based. Fortunately, the lecturer leading the module where I had chosen to run an experiment was incredibly supportive and I was able to get my questionnaire out to run while I was working on my other paper. The other paper was slightly more stressful, as there was some discussion about what my question should be. But I did it. Both essays were submitted. And both went down very well 🙂

Identify data sample for dissertation by end of May. – Complete. This was completed…although it was maybe more like the middle of June, largely due to ethical problems that cropped up regarding fanfiction.net ‘s terms of service statement. It was easily solved, but set me back a few days in terms of research.

Get a firm grasp on ethics in relation to dissertation by mid-May. – Complete. Both myself and my supervisor are now fairly certain that I’ve covered my bases. Fingers crossed I don’t have to go dumping my sample again at this point (I’ve already started my analysis).

Write draft of dissertation by end of June. – Incomplete. ~Laughs~ I based this goal on when the university said we should finish a draft by, but it was never going to happen. Particularly not with the amount of gaps in my knowledge I needed to fill, and the amount of narrowing down I needed to do. I’ve essentially gone from “I want to analyse creativity and authenticity in ALL of fanfiction” to “I want to analyse the creativity and authenticity involved in the characterisation of popularly referenced characters involved in these four Sherlock Holmes fanfiction texts using these models.” It took a long time to get there, but I think I finally know what I’m actually doing.

Reach 85k of The End of Atlas by end of June.Incomplete. So close! But no cigar. I only managed to reach 84,143 words. To be fair to myself, with illnesses and dissertation setbacks, I’ve probably only had one session on The End of Atlas this quarter. I also started messing about with a short story, which quickly turned into the workings of a novella that I might try self-publishing in the future. That bad boy is 7.5k…  I do feel like I’m having an affair with these other writing projects. I really do.

Create new logo for blog by end of June. – Complete. I have a drawing done, but I’ve not had chance to digitalise or upload. I think I’m going to postpone making any further changes to this blogsite until I’m done with my masters. I really want to be able to focus and do it properly.

Write blog post at least once a week. – Complete. Popular highlights from this quarter include: The Dos and Don’ts of Double Helix Piercings, Kit the Kat: Warning – May Contain Copious Cat Pictures, and my poem from last week, Seen from a Window in Wales.

Read at least two essays/chapters a week. – Complete. Entirely necessary when trying to put together a model for a topic no-one’s really covered before. Even re-reading articles has been incredibly helpful, as well as making detailed notes in a bullet-esque notebook format. Some of my favourites included: ‘Authentic in Authenticity: The Evolution of Sherlock Holmes on Screen’ by Stephen Joyce, ‘Character Voice in Anime Subtitles’ by Peter Howell and ‘What is Fanfiction and Why are People Saying Such Nice Things about It?’ by Bronwen Thomas. If you can get hold of them, I’d strongly recommend giving them a read.

Keep daily questions journal up-to-date. – Complete.

Keep daily routine: up at 7.30 am, bed by 11pm. – Complete. Although, this routine is now more up at 8am and bed by midnight.

 

So, I’ve managed to complete 8 of my 10 public goals. In addition, I completed all 5 of my private goals, making a total of 13 out of 15 goals achieved 🙂 Not half bad, if I do say so myself.

The end of the next quarter will be the 30th of September, by which time I will have (hopefully) finished my MA. With that in mind, let’s move on to my new targets.

 

Reset:

  1. Write at least 1500 words of dissertation a week until the end of July.
  2. Finish and submit my dissertation by the end of August.
  3. Have a “summer clean” during August.
  4. Make significant edits to The End of Atlas by the end of September.
  5. Edit novella and look into self-publishing by the end of September.
  6. Update CV by the end of September.
  7. Read an actual book by the end of September.
  8. Keep daily questions journal up-to date.
  9. Keep daily routine.
  10. Write one blog post a week.

 

I’ve kept it to 10 goals again, as I know that the next few months are going to be hectic again, as I’m finishing my dissertation and moving. I’ve also not set a word count for Atlas because there are some major changes that I would like to make before I get much further.

I will also be setting 5 private goals for myself, as always.

I feel I should also mention, that I have now achieved one of my new year’s resolutions: keeping a plant alive for 6 months. Beaky the orchid is currently in rest mode, but his leaves and roots are still growing and very green. This is all kinds of impressive as I have literally killed every plant I’ve ever owned…including a few cacti.

Look forward to seeing you next week, folks!

Best,

EM

Dissertation Drama Week #7

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Dissertation Drama Week #7

My work pace feels like it’s ground to a halt over the last two weeks, at least in terms of word count. The goal set by my supervisor was to collect comment data from my fanfiction samples, and start doing the coding that I’d promised I would do, in order to narrow my focus further. But personally, I was also aiming to get my method done as well.

After writing half my method, and collecting and coding almost 200 comments, some ethical issues reared their ugly head, and I had to dump 3/4 of my sample and rethink my sampling method completely. On top of that, I woke up last Friday with a stonking cold, which I’m still not quite recovered from.

What did I learn from this shamble?

  1. If you can see the twist in the road, slow down – I had a gut feeling that my ethical issues were not 100% fixed, but I didn’t want to waste time by not doing anything. Of course, instead of doing a ton of work that I then had to throw out, I could have been reading and building my knowledge for my next steps. I was so focused on building my word count that the thought didn’t occur until after the fact. Poor planning on my part, but something that I will definitely keep in mind.

 

  1. When things go wrong, do take a break – When things went wrong, I did not stop working. I was determined to catch up with myself. So all the work I originally did in 3 days, I did again in 1.5 days. On that .5 of a day, I was already ill and knew I was only going to get worse, so I pushed myself even harder to finish up. I then spent the weekend lying in bed in a state of semi-death (although I still dragged myself upright to blog). Basically, I’m an idiot. Don’t be me. Take a break, recover, then start working again.

 

  1. Sometimes, you need to edit as you go – Of course, once I’d screwed up my methodology section, I couldn’t just continue writing it. I needed to move whole chunks around, rework parts, and add greater detail into the coding and sampling sections. It wasn’t something I could leave and come back to, like my literature review (which just needs more of an argument). My method was a mess that needed sorting, so the rest would be coherent. Don’t leave yourself a pile of trouble to come back to later. Tackle it while the issues are fresh in your mind, so it doesn’t confuse everything else.

 

  1. Reading, is working – I feel like this is a really important point to get across. I’ve reached a stage now, where there is a gap in my knowledge and I need to fill it. I’ve never really done any proper stylistics work before, so I’m lacking a model to use for my dissertation. Therefore, I’ve spent a portion of the last three days reading up on possible models I could make use of. I’ve gone from being utterly daunted, to thinking, actually, this is doable. Worrying over my word count is all well and good, but it’s never going to grow if I don’t have the knowledge to put in. Researching is not just writing, it’s reading too! A fact that I still need to hammer into my brain.

 

I’m going to leave it at four this time, mainly because DEATH still. But I hope that these little insights are helping folks feel better about where they are with their dissertations. Personally, I’m looking forward to this time next year, when I can read all of these through and laugh.

Best,

EM

Dissertation Drama Week #5

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Dissertation Drama Week #5

Writing that number, number 5, makes my stomach feel a wee bit queasy. I can’t believe how fast things are going.

This past fortnight has been a bit of a douzey. After spending a weekend in London, my motivation took a bit of a nose dive. Getting back on top of things has been a real uphill struggle, but I’m getting there, and today’s supervision session has certainly set a fire underneath me.

Thus now, to work! What have I learnt this these two weeks gone?

  1. There’s a difference between taking a break and avoiding work – After the first few weeks of working, I felt pretty pleased with what I’d achieved, and my supervisor was happy as well. So, I felt like I deserved a break. I scheduled some social stuff. And then some more social stuff. And pretty soon that nervous itch that signals I’m procrastinating raised its ugly head. It’s good to take breaks, breaks are incredibly important to keep your energy levels up. However, let it teeter over into just messing around because you “don’t feel like working”, and you’ll find yourself struggling to get back to work when you need to. Try to find a balance.
  1. Internet ethics are more troublesome than you would think – When dealing with ethics, there are a few standard considerations that spring to mind. Do you have consent? Are your participants over 18? Will your research cause harm? Easy to answer right? Nope. Step online and things get blurry fast. Someone has published something in the public domain, so that’s fair game right? Not necessarily. And how are you supposed to know someone’s age when you can’t see their face? Also, you might think that citing your fanfiction source is giving credit where credit’s due, but what happens if someone recognises the username, and it gets the writer into trouble? As for Terms of Service…let’s not go there.
  1. Being proactive is never a bad thingI left the above queries about ethics with my supervisor, who said that he’d have a chat with some of the other staff in the department. But what I also should have done was message the folks of fanfiction.net, and the writers whose work I’d like to use. Instead, after having my lack of proactivity highlighted to me today, I’ve only just messaged the relevant people, and will now have to wait however long for them to get back to me before I can start my proper data collection and analysis. I’m kicking myself, because I’ve taken an unnecessary chunk of time off the clock. But I guess it’ll give me time to read.
  1. The narrower the focus, the better – I’ve said before that I’m a little nervy about the fact that this is my first extended piece of research. As a result, I guess I’ve gone a bit overkill on the amount of ideas and work I was intending on packing into this study. My supervisor today pointed out that I was planning on analysing the comments, analysing the original source text and analysing the fanfiction, not just once, but multiple times, for multiple linguistic attributes. I balked, and suddenly understood why he was so keen on me picking a specific model. My approach was far too broad, and he was trying to get me to narrow it down. So I have a loooooot of thinking to do this weekend.
  1. Plans may change, but that’s okay – If this course has taught me anything, it’s how to be flexible when the wind starts blowing. The fact is, you can start one project and land on something quite different. Now my data sample will undoubtedly be the same, and I’ll stay in the same stylistics ball park, but the model I found this week, I’ve already realised I can’t use. And that’s fine. This is definitely one of those stories that’s going to end in a way I couldn’t have predicted at the beginning, but that will just make sure that I spend time editing and editing and editing. As long as I stay flexible, the pieces will come together by the end.

And so ends Dissertation Drama Week #5 . I hope these are proving interesting. I know I’ve been scaring some of you with how much I’ve written, but I can promise you…it’s mostly garbage and I will end up hacking it to pieces by the end of this mess 😉

As always, if you enjoyed this article, likes, shares and comments are met with a warm welcome!

I hope you’re having a great weekend and I will catch y’all again next week 😀

Best,

EM

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.

#Goals

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#Goals
In my post earlier this week, you may have noticed that there was a general theme of #Goals.

Not many people know, but since 2014, I spend some time on the 1st of January making a list of New Year’s Resolutions in the back of my latest journal, and I’ve gotten quite good at completing them.

Okay, finishing The End of Atlas has been on that list since I started this practice, but I didn’t say I was perfect.

Last year’s goals included:

  • Get into a regular writing pattern.
  • Read at least 12 books.
  • Get MA offers.
  • Get MA funding.
  • Go on holiday.

And I’m happy to say I ticked all of these off. My writing pattern is now knocking out 1000 words in Starbucks on Sundays, and Grace the barista has taken to coming and asking how the novel’s going. I’ve read a considerable number of books, then switched to a 100 pages of research a week when my MA started, so I consider that a success. Lancaster and Birmingham both offered me a place for my MA, and after choosing Birmingham, I managed to get an MA scholarship from the College of Arts and Law. In August, a couple of friends and I went to Barcelona. It was the furthest away and hottest country I had ever been too, and while I can’t say my pasty-white-self was built for the weather, I had an amazing time.

Not everything worked out  exactly how I had planned it, but 2017, all things considered, was a good year.

This year, I really want to focus on my writing, my career and getting Atlas off my resolution list once and for all. So, I thought I would take a leaf out of Jenna Moreci’s book and make a quarterly goals list. I normally update my resolutions list anyway, but this will mean I get into the habit of regularly reviewing it, and keep up the momentum throughout the year.

From January through to the end of March, these are the #Goals I will aim to achieve:

  1. Update Atlas with edits from Writeryjig Clubamabob (WC).
  2. Reach the 90k mark for Atlas.
  3. Redraw Atlas timeline.
  4. Write a blurb for Atlas.
  5. Celebrate 1 full year of WC.
  6. Write a blog post at least once a week.
  7. Redesign blog.
  8. Rebrand blog.
  9. Write 2 linguistic essay drafts before the Easter Holiday.
  10. Read all the required material for my classes.
  11. Try and read 1 extra article/chapter a week.
  12. Write MA dissertation proposal.
  13. Vet possible fanfiction profiles for MA dissertation data suitability.
  14. Talk to personal tutor about ethics for MA dissertation.
  15. Keep daily question journal up-to-date.

On top of this I’m going to set 5 private aims, that I’ll keep track of in my diary. At the end of March I’ll do a review, let you know how it went and what I want to do for the next quarter. ~Fingers crossed~ I’ll have a whole draft of The End of Atlas and an MA to show for my pains by the end of the year!

The Graham Greene Affair: A 140 Day Challenge

The Grahame Green Affair
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The Graham Greene Affair: A 140 Day Challenge.

In the summer of 2013, (oh god, it’s 2 years ago, I’m so old) I began working on my dissertation; a 6000 word novel opening, accompanied by a 4000 word essay. I dubbed my novel Rimjhim, a title which I still have trouble spelling, but that I ultimately love more everyday. It is the Hindi word for the sound that rain makes, and acts as the perfect image to open this particular story. Alec, the story’s narrator, has had his memory erased and rewritten so many times, that it is hard for him to tell fact from fiction. Rimjhim is his memoir, his attempt to reassemble the fragments of his life. It was a story that I was passionate about, that I loved, right up until I started trying to finish the damn thing. Suddenly, I find myself looking for any excuse not to sit down and write.

So I’ve come up with a plan.

In The End of the Affair (1951) – my favourite book and a HUGE influence – Graham Greene describes his own writing method:

Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done I break off, even in the middle of a scene.

He was meticulous and disciplined; traits that, as a writer, I would love to train into myself. In fact, one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 is to get into a regular writing pattern. So, over the next 140 days, I will be setting aside time each day to write 500 words. They may not be as pristine Greene’s, who wrote “without crossing out anything” (Michael Korda, 1996), but they’ll be something.

140 days of 500 words makes 70,000; the average length of a first novel. The aim of The Grahame Greene Affair is to have a complete novel by March 2016. That’s 6 months to write, and 6 months to edit. And I invite you to come along for the ride. If you’re up for the challenge, I’m more than happy to beta read, and discuss ideas. Just drop me a line!

Yes, it’s certainly going to be an interesting few months, but damn it! I will get to the end of this affair!!! (Oh whoops, I made a punny. That bodes well.)

Best,

Mort.