Alternative Ways to Meet Thesis Word Targets: Death, Trauma or Self-Mutilation?

I’ve been writing up part of the chapter quite intensively for the past week or two. I’ve been so embroiled in this, I forgot to mark this blog’s second birthday on the 14th June (for she’s a jolly good fellow, etc.). I did remember to mark my own 24th birthday with some cake and pitchers of Pimms.

Each time I start the intensive writing process, I set myself the target of 1000 words a day. Some days, this comes easily and I pass that target by 3pm. Other days I can be still sitting staring at the Word document at 6pm with bloodshot eyes, a stack of tea stained mugs, messy hair and only 700 words to show for all my head scratching, before I give up and hope the next day will be better.

I’m always on the look out for tools to make myself produce more/better words. I’ve tried turning off all internet connectivity, or blocking certain web addresses which are known procrastination hotspots. I’ve even turned off the laptop completely to see if I can produce anything better without the looming word count easily accessible. During a visit to one of my procrasination hotspots last week (yes, sometimes I work willfully against myself), I read this article about this app, Write or Die, which allows you to write in kamikaze mode. It allows you to pause typing for 45 seconds before it starts deleting words you have already written.

I have not downloaded this app, for I fear in the course of a day it might delete my entire thesis. What if I can’t find a reference in time? What if I can’t turn it off? Frankly, chopping off a finger every time I don’t reach my 1000 word target would be about as effective a method of encouraging me to write more. It would work, but if it didn’t the consequences far outweigh the reward. More importantly, I am fairly sure that the stress involved in the 45 second rule would probably hospitalize me eventually which would overall effect productivity more.

Some days, I don’t need any additional stressors.

Event Retrospective: Return to the Political: Literary Aesthetics and the Influence of Political Thought

This was my second year attending the University of Oxford English Graduate conference. The theme this year was ‘Return to the Political’, and the variety of papers running across 4 parallel panel sessions addressed everything from pamphlets and performance to propaganda and poetry.

My paper was on the ‘Ireland’ panel, and I presented on the politics of dedications in Northern Irish poetry. This is work that I completed for half of a chapter, but I found it so fascinating I’m considering making it into a full chapter. Also on my panel was Rosie Lavan who spoke on Heaney, making reference to the feminist critiques of North, new (queer?) perspectives on the bog woman, and the representation of women of the Troubles in the tabloids. Francis Hutton-Williams spoke on the relationship between the poet Thomas McGreevy and Paul Valéry in inter-war Paris, arguing for a re-politicising of Irish poetry in the time when it was better known for its neutrality.

I also attended panels which featured papers on Saul Bellow, Isadora Duncan, The Crimson Petal and the White, Shakespearean actresses and the suffrage movement and voice in Black Atlantic writing. From a contemporary writing perspective, I enjoyed a paper from Leeds MA student Georgina O’Toole which read Angela Carter with Eavan Boland to produce an ecofeminist reading of the notion of landscape. It was refreshing to hear a paper which considered a poet and a fiction writer together.

One of the keynotes was a panel discussion on ‘What is a Classic?’ with Baroness Helena Kennedy QC (former Orange Prize judge and on the Booker Trust), Dr Ankhi Mukherjee (author of What is a Classic?: Postcolonial Rewriting, Repetition, and Invention of the Canon) and Judith Luna (editor of the Oxford World Classics series). It was a fascinating discussion which brought together the market forces of book selling and prize judging with the academic considerations of reading lists and broader canonical issues. Booker Prize winning author Ben Okri gave the second keynote, and he discussed aspects of tyranny and politics in art, drawing on Nietzsche.

Completing a course online (for the first time)

I’ve just started my first fully online course through the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. Incidentally, this course is about learning to teach online, and I’m looking forward to learning in this kind of environment as a student so that the experience can inform any teaching I do online elsewhere.

I did find that online learning environments in my undergraduate experience supplemented my courses when used well. Most of the time it wasn’t an engaging space, and the common criticism was that they were just a data dump for PowerPoint presentations and lecture handouts. Those who didn’t turn up to lectures because these were online were fools. Studying from slides with words on is like buying a CD and listening to it with your ears covered. When esed well, the module spaces became a focal point for all sorts of stimulating material – mainly links to online articles and photographs relevant to the books we were studying.

Whether the online learning environment was used well or not was of relatively little consequence when we had 8(ish) contact hours of lectures and seminars. It is absolutely critical to the success of distance learning courses which I think will continue to be an expansion area in higher education.

Advances in technology (or perhaps just advances in our understanding of existing technology) can make online learning environments increasingly dynamic. What I’m learning in my online course is that no matter how spangly the delivery method, there are still key skills online tutors need to get to grips with. Communicating in a text-based environment, addressing challenging students and supporting online learners wherever they are based are all essential programme management skills.

With all my recent posts about online tutoring, Twitter in academia, interactive novels and OERs, I feel I should add a disclaimer (as much for me as for readers). I *am* still writing a thesis on poetry. I am. I will. I must.

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