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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Poem: Recipe For a Writer

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Poem: Recipe for A Writer

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Child
  • 1 Overactive Imagination
  • 1 Laundry Basket
  • 1 Swing
  • 1 Decent Sized Vocabulary
  • 100’s and 1000’s of Good Quality Notebooks
  • 1 Dollop of Encouragement
  • Books to Taste

 

Step 1:

Take child and add your overactive imagination and a laundry basket. They may initially start by pretending to be a Darlek. This might seem derivative, but fear not. Soon they will discover that the lid of the basket makes for an interesting shield. They will take on the role of a warrior who’s spirit has been trapped inside the shield by their father. They will fight for honour and peace, but they will quickly forget who they’re fighting against, because keeping track of the storyline is not yet the child’s forte.

 

Step 2:

Add to your newly inspired child, 1 swing. Allow child to swing as high as they want, or spin themselves dizzy. They will then invent a world in which sparkly slivers of coloured light are under attack by Balloon Heads. The Sparklies know that the child is their chosen one, destined to save their people, but the Balloon Heads want to chop off the child’s head an turn them into one of their people. Pinkie is a noble Sparklie who will lay down his life for the child. Yellow is a traitor and a coward, who will sell the child out. Your child now understands plot, but will never like yellow again.

 

Step 3:

Stir in a decent sized vocabulary and sprinkle child with 100’s and 1000’s of notebooks. Your child will now begin to write down the words that they’ve been wittering to themselves during steps 1 and 2 and will develop an ability to describe what it is they’re seeing at the same time. Do not judge the terrifying way in which the child’s mind works, even if they: create dragons to set fire to bullies hair and save the day, end a war between men and women by having everyone die, or have a man murder a friend because ghostly voices taunted him into it. Instead, add a dollop of encouragement to really enhance that prolific writing bug.

 

Step 4:

Once your child has begun writing furiously add books to taste, but not necessarily to your taste. Ask the child what books they like, and try to give them a steady flow of reading material. This will bring the flavour of that vocabulary out and make those 100’s and 1000’s of notebooks seem all the more attractive to the child.

 

Step 5

The final step is to place your child at a desk, and leave to work until golden.

 

 

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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

Comic Books: Reading for the Crazy Busy

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Comic Books: Reading for the Crazy Busy

You’ll have to forgive me if I my grammar’s a little groggy this week. I woke up yesterday with a nasty cold, which has now shifted and set up camp in my tonsils. Thinking is fun, I got out of breath just walking across the room to get my laptop, and let’s not talk about what’s coming out of my nose right now. I am gross.

Anyway, I thought today would be a good day to talk about my new found love for comic books. My hope is that my enthusiasm will shine through the ill.

As most of you will know, I’ve always been a bit of a nerd. As a kid, I was the one who sat in the corner writing (when I wasn’t busy being a Kidiot). As a teen, I used Star Trek and Stargate Atlantis as my security blanket to calm me down before school. As an adult…well, I’ve finally discovered joy in comic books.

That’s not to say I hated them before. I just never really got on with them. I’ve always found comfort in words on a page, but there was never enough text in comic books for my liking. Not to mention, I really struggled to process images and words at the same time, so I’d often miss a joke or plot point and would have to read whole sections again.

However, in the last year or so, I’ve found myself building a collection. It started with the Harbinger series, which I came across on Amazon. A friend bought me the collected Blacksad for my birthday, and then the wonderful Chloe Dungate (aka Scarfdemon) put up a video of comic book recommendations. Suddenly, I’m up to my eyeballs in clever storytelling and gorgeous artwork. It’s great.

So, what caused this change of heart? Well, two things:

  1. My understanding of how comic books work has greatly improved since I was a kid.
  2. My life got ridiculous.

When you’re an English student, people make the assumption that you spend every waking moment of everyday having a good old read of a nice book. But, the last time I managed to read a standard prose novel of my choosing was over the summer, before my course started. Even then, I was reading Supernatural books because I thought I’d end up covering Supernatural fanfiction for my dissertation. Turns out, I should have been reading the collected work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The best laid plans, hey?

The fact is, I’ve been so swamped with reading heavy linguistics papers that the last thing I want to do in order to chill out is read more dense text. Hell, I’ve been struggling to get myself to write because I know I need to make edits to The End of Atlas before I can continue, and ow, my brain.

But in comic books, I’ve found something rather wonderful. A place I can enjoy the quiet comfort of words without having to summon an image of the whole world. Instead, it’s right there – on the page – drawn for me. Not to mention, a number of comic books are so quick to read that I can sneak one into the hour before bed, or into that awkward period after breakfast, but before I have to trek to see my dissertation tutor. They are the perfect reading material for someone whose life has become crazy busy.

Somehow, I’ve grown to love comic books so much, that I’ve even found ways to incorporate them into my MA work this year. In my first semester, I wrote a paper outlining how Harbinger uses non-textual elements to tell its story, and then used that as evidence to support myself as I ripped into two of the main theorists on the topic of “visual grammar” (possibly a little too much). For the semester just gone, I proposed my own question, analysed the use of gesture in Princess Princess Ever After, and provided a comparison between those gestures and the gestures we use in real life. I showed, amongst other things, that gesture in comic books can be used to replace language in order to avoid cluttering cells with lots of texts. So a cheering crowd can be represented by characters waving and punching the air.

Basically, what I’m saying is, comic books are super cool. They’re short and sweet, but they’re also this incredibly complex communicative tool. They frequently get put in the box of “kid stuff” or “nerd stuff” (as if that’s a bad thing), and are ignored for no good reason. There’s such a variety of comic books out there now, beyond the traditional superhero stories, that it’s just impossibly frustrating to hear people dismiss them as “not my thing” without ever having read one (as happened to me the other day whilst perusing the comic book section in Waterstone’s).

So next time you’re busy, but you really want that joyous feeling of reading a whole book in one sitting, try a comic book. Or two. I mean, no pressure, but you might be pleasantly surprised.

 

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.

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!