Monthly Archives: January 2017

My plan for writing this term

Currently I am between two possible writing projects for this course: a thesis chapter or a paper for publication. My research involves reconstructing environment and subsistence through the analysis of archaeological fish remains from various islands in the Kingdom of Tonga.  I have been working with my supervisor to sort and identify ~10 000-15 000 skeletal elements. It has been a long yet enjoyable experience (even when most of my friends have told me that fish bone identification is something they would never want to do), however this past December my analysis has come to a temporary halt. At end of this week I have a meeting planned with my supervisor to go through the data extensively and identify patterns of taxonomic variability within and between sites. After this meeting I will have a better understanding of the path my research can take and the types of major questions I can actively explore in this project as well as my thesis.

At some point this year I would like to write an article suitable for publication. My goals are to provide a detailed report of the data collected thus far and discuss the various taxonomic patterns using an ecology-based approach. The current uncertainties are whether I have collected enough data to accurately discuss any patterns at all, and if I do I must be careful my report will not imitate or overlap too much with the article my supervisor is planning to write in the near future. Once again, these questions will (hopefully) be answered this Friday. With a copious amount of fish bone data at hand, I believe this writing option is feasible, and my intentions for this class are to produce this article.

On the other hand, I would be just as happy to compose a chapter of my thesis. Last semester I took two reading courses to research the historical background of my target region, and the various methodologies in zooarchaeology. The focus for my chapter would be on a description of the site context and a discussion of past regional studies. Dr. Roddick mentioned how writing or reading a background chapter can be a slightly unpleasant experience, but not if it is written effectively. The content can be presented in an engaging and appealing manner, as opposed to a simple descriptive outline. I will admit, I did not consider this approach as an option before now. If this is the project I choose to write, I plan to start my writing process by asking this question: “What story should this chapter tell?”.  I hope this class can assist me with writing an effective narrative and encouraging myself to be actively interested in the reader.

I plan to complete 30 minutes (at times it may become 60 minutes)of free writing 5-6 days a week on this project and I have set some strict rules for myself. The process will involve 30 timed minutes to write on a specific section of my paper, and I will turn off my Wi-Fi and refuse to stop and search through my references. However, once time has progressed and I am closer to completing my first draft, I will have to be more flexible and cut that time period in half so that the first part is assigned to free writing and the remaining 15 minutes will allow for referencing and fine-tuning. Considering writer’s block affects me throughout the editing phase as well, I plan to conduct my editing process in the same manner with timed writing periods. This is so I can mimic that feeling of ‘crunch time’ and as soon as the timer stops, I must finish and wait until the next opportunity to finish my thoughts. By completing certain sections every day, I might avoid those dreaded days of endless hours trying to produce ideas yet failing to go anywhere. I am optimistic every 30 minute period will guide me a step further to accomplishing my goal, and I must maintain this positive outlook throughout the entire process.

My outline for writing is such:

5-6 Days a week: 30 minutes of free writing (no internet, no fact checking, no opportunities to pause/stop)

Up until January 20th: Brainstorm major ideas for thesis chapter and article

January 20th: Meeting with supervisor

January 27th: Create outline for paper

February 3rd: Read through references, conduct further research, create reference list

February 10th: Compose really rough first draft from daily writing sessions

February 19th- 25th: Reading week, give draft to a family member or friend (a non-academic) to comment on clarity

March 9th: Bring in first draft to class

March 23rd: Bring in second draft to class

March 24th- April 1st: Edit, edit, EDIT! And utilizing the help of a peer editor (or two)

March 30th: Create presentation of paper

April 6th: Presentation of final paper

After April 6th/end of term: Give paper to supervisor for comments and further editing

I believe I have provided myself with reasonable tasks and time to complete them. As with any other writing assignments, starting is the first battle, yet I will try my best not to grow weary during this time. My hope is that the implementation of 30 minutes of free writing each day will minimize the occurrences of writer’s block while simultaneously enhancing the fluidity of my writing. In addition, I am looking forward to the peer editing process which will be taking place later in the course. My goals are to commit to sharing all of my future work with at least one peer editor so that I may be more easily guided in the right direction.

My love/hate relationship with writing – mostly hate

Let me start off by saying I always enjoyed one style of writing, creative and freestyle writing. Therefore I actually enjoyed creating this first blog post and saying whatever came to mind. Yet after years of producing countless structured papers in university, I have somewhat lost the creative spark I developed from my creative writing class in grade 11. Even writing this blog post I was unsure of how creative and humorous I should be. I suppose after having my work judged and evaluated by some of the smartest individuals in Canada, I have resorted to writing seriously and just sticking to the point. I remember my grade 12 english teacher giving me my final mark and advising me that I “probably should not take an english writing course in university”, then forcing out an awkward laugh. However, I ignored her advice and took a couple english courses in my first two years of undergrad and finished with grades of A. I knew then to trust myself and my work habits, yet always seek help when it is needed. I am aware that I am not the greatest writer, and though I have good ideas and arguments, I often struggle to express them. And let me tell you, the struggle is real.

When I write for a class assignment, mainly an end of term paper, I try to start it as soon as possible. While this does not always happen, when it actually does I feel a little more confident that I will create something extraordinary because I will have the time to fix what I see as unfit. However, on countless occasions I spend the last 24 hours before the due date rereading my paragraphs, rereading my sources, rereading my numerous scribbled notes, and just wishing the whole ordeal would end. As I write this introductory paragraph I am wondering to myself, why does this always happen? And is there a better way to write? I know there is, and I truly hope I find it.

I wish to give my writing process the therapy that it deserves, so therefore to try to treat my writing troubles I must first identify them as they appear in my writing process. I have already mentioned the first step, starting early, which is then followed by scribbling down a brief bullet-point outline. This outline helps to map out my main thoughts, arguments, and supporting evidence. I then build on these thoughts and attempt to write my first draft. Sometimes I will start writing from the beginning and work my way to the conclusion, while other times I will build it piece by piece in no particular order. I have found that both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Writing random sections allows me to focus on my favourite arguments first and the more dreaded points later. On the other hand, writing from introduction to conclusion creates a better flow since I am connecting my points as I go, instead of attempting to piece parts together at the end. Plus, finishing my least favourite sections early gives me a real sense of accomplishment and takes weight off of my shoulders.

Writer’s block hits me hard at the start, this is when I sit down and start typing. “Okay, I have an outline and an idea for my argument…now what?”. And I sit there thinking and thinking, writing one line here and another there, hoping they will meet up at some point. I also become stuck when I approach the conclusion, my biggest challenge is summarizing everything I have said without sounding redundant and instead writing something that sounds….well profound and smart. Going out with a bang.

This issue of ‘sounding smart’ plagues me greatly throughout the writing and editing processes. One of my habits involves highlighting words or phrases which I consider to be poor or unclear. Most of the time these are words which do not say exactly what I am thinking or I simply believe I can choose a better or smarter word. However, my initial poor choice of word discourages me from searching for a new one at that moment, therefore instead of fixing it immediately, I highlight and save that task for later. My reason for this is that I prefer to write very roughly at first and edit later, not doing two jobs at once and tiring myself out. Writing and editing are scheduled on separate days because I believe in having a fresh mind when starting a new task.

Having a fresh mind definitely helps when I approach the issue of ‘infinite references’. With access to numerous journals from the library and articles from google scholar, the number of sources that may support my arguments is overwhelming. I cannot count the number of times I have sat at my computer for 2-3 hours just going through my sources and their references, and their partners’ work, and their references, and not writing a word in my paper.  A majority of the academics I research discuss the same topic and make the same arguments, but I always think that if I look in depth at their work I may find something unique which I can use.  Therefore, one of the hurdles which slows down my writing process is searching through endless streams of ideas and never knowing when to stop reading.

Eventually when I do say enough, I stop reading and take a moment to breath. I confess, I say ‘stop’ to myself quite a bit during my entire writing process. Brainstorming, writing, referencing, and editing can only be done for so long with my easily distracted mind. But if I do accomplish a sufficient amount of work in one sitting, I like to reward myself. Sometimes with a snack or tea, a chat with a friend, a little Netflixing (often ‘little’ turns into 3 hour movie), or a trip to the gym (in this situation I think the gym is a reward, that is how much I dislike writing at times). Now, the trouble for me is that these distractions are available all the time and they are so very tempting when I am hitting my head against the wall trying to think of something to type. They are both a blessing (reward for working hard) and a curse (reward when I am trying to work hard). I am easily distracted by almost everything when I sit down to read an article/book or write a paper. One method I use is bargaining with myself: I could write for three hours straight, or I could write for two hours then procrastinate and relax for an hour, and then finish up that last hour of writing after. “I will have time” is something I always say to myself, yet I never do have enough time. If I choose to relax halfway through my day then I always lose precious working time later. Eventually everything I planned to finish gets pushed back until it gets closer to the deadline. This is where the real stress comes in.

I have to admit, some of my best writing has occurred during ‘crunch times’ or at the late hours of the night. It is as if the stress has given me the adrenaline to break through my writer’s block.  If I go slow the blocks can easily be placed in front of me and it can be hours until I figure a way around them, but if I go fast I can get past them before they even appear. The last writing block appears when I have run out of things to edit or perfect. It is difficult for me to decide when something I have created is not only complete, but also valuable. This is when having that second party becomes incredibly helpful. Having a friend or two read and pick out flaws I never considered helps me get through many of the challenges I have outlined in this blog post. But on the day before the deadline, likely my editing partner is finishing up work of their own, so this is when I undergo countless cycles of reading and rereading my myself. I edit and reread until my head hurts, and finally when I cannot find any more ways to improve my arguments, I create my title page and print that paper.

You would think after years of writing I would have found the best methods which limited the amount of times writer’s block appeared…sadly I have not.  Establishing a good writing process for myself has actually become an ongoing process on its own. I continue to try new tactics to encourage good writing habits (e.g. rewarding myself with a tasty snack every time I finish a page), or enhancing my focus (e.g. trying new types of tea which are advertised to enhance awareness and focus). Once I get my writing groove back, I truly feel better about the length, style, strength, and overall quality of my finished product. And this feeling always comes back for everything I write. The struggle to get it back, however, is something I hope to overcome in the near future. Especially when I have that future thesis of mine making its way nearer every day.