Going Experi-mental

Are you guilty of playing it safe? Of sticking to tried and tested methods of writing, researching, thinking? I know I am.

Write Dangerously

However the way to discover new things is to think outside the box, to challenge conventions and to get go a little bit experimental!

In the past I have talked about software I’ve downloaded, tactics I’ve tried, thoughts I’ve had, mind mapping, even blogging – all of these are my way of trying to find fame, fotune, a wealthy husband, notoriety, success, media attention  a new way to succeed in a very traditional field, that of Literary Criticism.

Yesterday’s post about lacking originality was another way of trying to find a pathway to something new – even when you feel there is nothing left to find.

It is very hard to be innovative when studying something like literature. But when you  analyse literature to any degree you are immediately confronted with writers who are trying to do something new, something hitherto unseen, something exciting. The trend of the Modernists to ‘make it new’ was a reaction against the generic formulaic Victorian and Georgian formalism. Modernism was the apotheosis of experimentation, with Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake being the apotheosis of that apotheosis … imagine if he had stuck to the tradition of writing in linear, structured, coherent sentences.  Whilst Joyce is often held up as inspirational and ridiculous in equal measure, and often to cries of Emperors New Clothes, it cannot be denied that his work has the authenticity of longevity – we will be talking about if for many, many decades to come. Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf wrote fervently to create ‘the woman’s sentence’ – the antithesis of the black imposing masculine ‘I” that had dominated literature in the preceding centuries. They argued against the male dominance of the novel and took a step allowing women writers to engage a more feminine approach.

If unlike me you are not into Modern and contemporary literature, it isn’t a far stretch to look at the greats, such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, et al and recognise experimental literature when you see it … any banned book is another test case for change and advancement.

It’s easy to dismiss this ‘experimental verve’ as part of the artistic or ‘creative’ process that as academics we ‘should’ sit outside of, but we don’t and we shouldn’t. Any piece of writing involves the creative process. Yes we do have to follow certain conventions, but that doesn’t mean what we ‘say’ has to be conventional. Whilst I do find some forms of new criticism, like the idea of Hymenal Space (especially considering it’s medically questionable that the Hymen actually exists/ed)  ‘out there’ and I find my nose wrinkling up slightly at the thought, I do applaud anyone who is prepared to push back boundaries to create or investigate something new.

We don’t have to be Joyce, Woolf or even Leavis, Bahktin or Chomsky, but we can all try to look at our work from a different angle, structure our work in a way that works for us as well as for the examination boards and test the boundaries (via out supervisors) a little. Even if it turns out it doesn’t work, you will have learned new things in the process and become a more thorough academic in the process.

And if we can’t do that in our actual Ph.Ds we can do it in places like this! Or NaNoWriMo … places that encourage you to be different and new and unique and uninhibited – unleashed from the constraints and conformities of traditional academic writing.

So today is ‘Forget health and safety Tuesday – go a little bit experimental’.


1000 Words a Day!

I am trying to implement the very wise advice of The Thesis Whisperer of writing 1000 words a day. 

This seems a really sound piece of advice when you have a lot to write in a relatively short space of time as it makes your output quantifiable and measurable in terms of time.I wasn’t initially convinced (I think you may be getting the very accurate impression that I am not easily convinced about most things) that this was sound practice because all researchers know it’s quality not quantity that counts. I thought a 1000 words a day would be counter-productive because lets face it, usually you agonise over each and every word … this surely is counterintuitive to the researcher-writer process.

However – by writing a 1000 words a day you are  often unwittingly tapping into reserves in your mind that when consciously sought are nowhere to be found. Out of the 1000 words written you may discover the nexus of a new idea, the groundwork for a competent study or even that your 1000 words are of such a quality that all that is necessary is a little tweaking and polishing. It sets you  daily goal that is very doable (Given it would take me weeks to craft a 20 minute paper of about 3000 words this came as a bit of a shock to me – what the hell was I doing with all my time? Probably procrastinating on Facebook. )

When I had a presentation to prepare in 10 days I also adopted this approach. Initially I was ditching more than I was keeping of the 1000 words written. That worried me (as a lot of things do – You don’t get frown lines like this for nothing you know!) I have always hated shedding words … but when you are writing a 1000 a day you become blasé about it all and realise that for every 50 slashed another 50 wait to be used. You become omnipotent and daring! I continued, bravely, and  slowly but surely I noticed that my writing was becoming more accurate and more focused in a much shorter time. I was procrastinating less and less and writing more and more. My ideas were also forming more coherently as part of the writing process. So I have broadened my approach to ALL my writing not just my papers. Given the tall order of 25k by mid December it’s very necessary! However with 1000 words a day in 5 weeks I could have my target total. That is an appealing (and not too panic-inducing) thought!

Writing is a skill that takes practice – the more you write the better you get. That bizarre and and oddball event NaNoWriMo also has a lot of good tips for writing efficiently and quickly regardless of whether you want to produce a fairly unpublishable  novel.

I have a lot to thank the Thesis Whisperer for. I signed up to her blog a few months ago and every issue has something of interest for me. It is motivational and empathetic. I can’t count the number of times I have read the blog entry and thought – so I am NOT alone in this after all. That Thesis Whisperer is one clever chick! 

I don’t normally blog on a Wednesday but I am finding the composition of a blog post to be a good way to start a day – it gets me into the swing of writing and kicks stars the grey matter!

Have a Good productive none ‘procastoratory’* day all!

*yes I made that word up!