Writing back into it

I had a job interview last week, I didn’t get the job. It was a (very) part-time, temporary post, but I still would have liked it as the department looked ace. I did, of course, put a lot of preparation and thought into it. (Not going to whine: this preparation isn’t wasted as I can use it with my creative writing groups and future interviews.) This meant that last week the work towards PhD thesis completion was a little limited.

I have a month to go.

I’m so close. It’s nearly at the complete draft / rip bits up / rewrite problem areas – or at least flag ’em up for potential discussion / neaten and sort out the (blasted!) referencing stage.

‘Er, Jen?’ I hear you say, ‘If you’re so close then why the heck are you writing here rather than in Chapter Six 19.09.17.docx?’

Well, since you asked so nicely, it’s partly because I feel a little burned out and therefore moderately distractible/down, partly because of the time of year, but mostly it’s The Fear. The last two chapters were supposed to be the “best” chapters, the two I feel that I know most about. A chance to showcase some of my own creative work.

I open the document.

Know what I have to do.

Then stare at the cursor, it beats on the screen as if it’s constantly giving me the finger.

Flip, flip, flip.

I’ve built it into this impossible thing – where ambition outstrips ability (and time-scale). To evoke a simile involving the South Pennine fringe: it’s like climbing up the surface of the sheer gritstone face of Summit Quarry in the rain, with no carabiners nor any climbing nous. I’ve gotta climb this beast and the only way, for me, to do that is to write into it. Et voila, a blog post.

Hyperbole aside, while this piece of work, ultimately, won’t change the shape of the universe: ‘there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle’. Over the past few years, it’s taught me a few things about writing. In creativity, there is ‘a place for the genuine’.

Rather than a WOW! These Ten Writing Tips will BLOW YOUR MIND, the following is a list of things I find helpful (when I remember to put them into action). And I’m sharing them in the hope that it’s a helpful list! Would love to hear your thoughts too.

  1. That little voice, you know, the one that says ‘What the hell are you doing?! What right do you have to do that? You know that it’s going to be rubbish anyway? You can’t!’ may not go away but there are ways of coping with it
  2. You ARE good enough. And you CAN do this. Just gotta believe it – while retaining a sense of humility.
  3. Foster a resilience: learn it, remember it, put into practice.
  4. Locate your allies, they do exist. (In my case: my supervisory team, friends, family, fellow creatives.) If low, and feeling on your own, they will be there.
  5. Unless someone has something constructive to say, ignore the trolls. (I know, it’s hard, people can be gits.) As Taylor Swift sings: ‘Haters gonna hate, (hate, hate, hate, hate)’.
  6. Sometimes you’ve got to write your way in, or around it, to get where you need to go to. Or, if not, to take you on a wobbly, or even circuitous, route elsewhere.
  7. Your writing &/or research is important; there may not be many other people writing about, or looking into, this area (yet!).
  8. LOOK! You just made something up/wrote something down that wasn’t there before. That’s some kind of magic, yes?!
  9. If you can’t write, do something related to it. (I make stuff in a joyous amateur way, possibly not/never for sharing!)
  10. Nothing is ever really completed.

I think I might have written somewhere before about the feeling that when you make something, and then share it, that sometimes it is like putting your heart on a platter. And with that, I’d better pop off and get that organ ready for plating.

Flip, flip, flip off cursor.

***

In other news, this week marks 20 years since I left home for a tumultuous three years in Sunderland. If someone can go back in time and tell the tempestuous little idiot pictured below that, while everything won’t quite be all right, it’ll be more or less OK.

Red eyes! I think that I got an infamous Boots 'Quality Control' sticker for this one.

Red eyes! I think that I got a Boots ‘Quality Control’ sticker for this one.

Some plans & schemes & ‘better dreams’

Hello hello to the readers of these irregular dispatches. Hope all’s well in your worlds.

Wow, August was physically and mentally exhausting. Bit glad that it’s done with, to be honest with you! Phew. It’s the last month of pulling my PhD thesis together and I can make out some dim light at the end of the dark tunnel (is that an angler fish? Best not think too hard about it).  So, yeah, anyway, that was August and now we’re into the colour changing days of September. And writing writing writing.

And sometimes writing, thinking about writing, worrying about writing, feels frivolous. There’s so much else going on in the world – if, indeed, there is any world left by next week – so it feels a little futile sometimes carrying on in this  (mostly) introspective endeavour. But carry on we must!

In terms of carrying on, this means keeping an eye out for jobs during the final Thesis Write Up™ so that I don’t become a Calderdale statistic once I’m done. Although if I do need to go to the job centre I will do so in the biggest, flounciest dress that I own.  Mostly to cheer myself up, mind. In all seriousness, I have had to sign on in the past and it isn’t a big bag of fun but it is a safety net that I have appreciated. I will never grumble about contributing to it.

Anyway, I’m not here to give big grandstanding political statements, not at the mo.

Moving on.

I’ve been thinking about this Wild Writes website and blog. I set the site up as part of a project originally, but it’s sort of developed away from what that was.  I’d like to keep this to blog with because I really like using WordPress. My other “professional” website www.jenbee.me.uk uses Drupal which is a bit of a pain in the bum to use and I have guilt chills when I think about how much updating it needs (sorry Drupal fans). Once I’ve finished my PhD I’m going to have a bit of a think as to what to do with my social networks, websites & blogs as they’re a little unwieldy. I would like to keep a blog – to share practice and some blether on what I’m getting up to.  I’d like to just keep it even if it’s just to pop some of the gorgeous sights/sites of West Yorkshire, where I’ve moved to.  Oh, sharing some less salubrious sights too, of course.

tl;dr: I have too many online things, I want to rationalise them.

I think that I’d like to blog about making things; I’ve written somewhat on the writing process, but crafting feels different. Perhaps it’s because I feel that there is so little to lose in the process of making. Writing is important to me; it’s possibly one of the few things I love doing and know that even though I may get anxious about what others think of my work I do – most of the time – think that it’s something that I’m at least OK at! Crocheting, sewing, sketching, and baking I find fun and feel less emotionally invested in these endeavours as they are like a sort of release. Making is a kind of therapy (read that last term in your best Freud voice!). I have a load of sewing that I’m looking forward to as a reward for completing my thesis (including a compass-themed dress and pyjamas for my mum).

So yes, just thought that I’d share some thoughts and, hopefully, we’ll all be less worried about the threat of nuclear winter by the next update. . .

Here's to Better Dreams for all

Here’s to Better Dreams for all. . .

On anxiety, “procraftination”, and academia

Content warning: some of this blog post discusses anxiety, depression, still birth.

This is possibly the most personal – but hopefully helpful – post that I have done (and think I will do) on this site.  Over the last few years, I have changed and the Wild Writes project will change too. Here we go.   Continue reading

On not completing poetry and the near future…

So, didn’t quite achieve a poem a day like last year. Partly because I’m writing up, partly because of the onslaught of bad news, partly because I didn’t have a solid theme. I will do better next year!

Follow the route against the current. (River Goyt through Woodbank Park, Stockport, Greater Manchester.)

Follow the route against the current. (River Goyt through Woodbank Park, Stockport, Greater Manchester.)

All concentration is now focussed on finishing my PhD thesis – not as easy a task as it sounds. Writing up various notes, editing bits that – whoops – are currently ropey and need smoothing and/or expanding. And I’m thinking of the future. I was worried last September that time had zoomed by and that I would be unemployed/underemployed/unemployable by October 2017. Basically, I love this job. I love the mix of outreach which has incorporated teaching/tutoring creative writing, the research, and writing. Statistically, however, I may not be able to break into an academic role. I’m not as worried now, though; I’m sure that I can use this academic knowledge to share skills in different, possibly unorthodox ways! I am confident in my skills as a speaker/teacher, even with some “stage fright” at conference times. (Anyway, public speaking is just acting, like creative writing is acting.) While my research is niche, I do have publishing ideas with the work I’ve done so, hopefully, I can get that out there when I’ve finished. Finally, being “Doctor B” will be awesome (no, not that sort of Doctor but I can pop you in the recovery position if need be).

So yes, there will be more poetry/writing but it may be after I’ve finished this 80,000ish word document!

And with that – back to writing Rochdale.

The research rollercoaster – final year of phd

Second year turned out to be a mixture of doubt and epiphany, success and strife. There were many moments of joy; I won a couple of prizes, I’ve run workshops, I’ve developed a bond with the borough of Rochdale, and I feel like I know the shape of my thesis even though I’m struggling at times to find the words.  At the same time there have been moments of family illness, random events, relationship tension, that seasonal sadness that bites in November and will not unclasp its jaws until March.

Those elusive words, sliding along the tracks, their sounds captured in the clouds.

Those elusive words, sliding along the tracks, their sounds captured in the clouds.

And this summer too has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Not a smooth rollercoaster, more like a Blackpool rollercoaster; sometimes fun, sometimes whiplash inducing painful.  It’s been hard to summon up the “WOO!” at times. And often I feel like I’m falling or failing, the lap bar barely keeping me secure.

Negotiating the metal tangle: materials that endure, some have been there before and will remain long after.

Negotiating the metal tangle: materials that endure, some have been there before and will remain long after, all will be ephemeral.

The research rollercoaster is an intriguing ride – possibly white knuckle – but ultimately the aim is to not only improve my own skills (I love learning, a little unsure as to whether I’m any good at it but I love it) but also to add to an argument, to try, in my own small way, to make a positive difference. It seems that there is a common assertion, or assumption, that a PhD is an isolated experience. It’s really not. Yes you are becoming a specialist in your own niche of a niche, but you do so in collaboration. If it were not for the encouragement of Dr David Cooper and the rest of my fantastic supervisory team (Doctors: Rachel Dickinson, Julie Armstrong, Kirsty Bunting and Jane Turner) I think I may have given up, accepted defeat. And I owe it to a borough – messy, weird, wonderful, challenging, complex – and the people within it who have been so generous with their time. And I owe it to my friends, all those loved ones. The shoulders of many, many giants giving me that boost and view (and what a view). Yes, a PhD represents your hard work, your figuring out, but no: you are not alone.

OK final year, I’m ready for you. Bring it.

*Clanking up the lift hill, arms in the air, ready for the drop*

Clanking up the lift hill, arms in the air, ready for the drop.

Changing at Crewe: 2 years to go.

Crewe station, we've had times together you know...

Crewe station, we’ve had times together you know…

Today marks a year to the day since I meandered onto the Manchester Metropolitan University campus in Crewe, Cheshire. This friendly campus is a small place of green in Crewe with Valley Brook twisting past my office window and a soundscape of rustling trees, sparrowhawk bickering, and blackbird song. It’s the second year of my PhD study on the literary geographies of Rochdale. I still feel like there’s a lot to still be learned, however, I’ve picked up so much in the past year that it’s positively affected my creative practice somewhat; I’m a more confident in academic writing – a whole different beast to making stuff up or writing campaigning journalism – and I’m certainly a lot more confident when talking about my project. From an intensive three days of learning from a place writing workshop to presenting a paper with “Poo” in the title at the University of Idaho, it’s been a veritable whirlwind of a year! This year I’m hoping to learn about cartography and mapping literature (plus a little bit of coding while I’m at it), to being running those creative writing sessions mentioned in March and – all being well in getting prepared for it – get through that transfer process (that’s where you upgrade from MPhil to PhD level).

There’s still a lot of work to do in the next few months. So yes, I’m definitely changing at Crewe!

Two and a half years to go…

STATION FLORA AT STOCKPORT TRAIN STATION. TAKEN 1ST SEPT 2014 – THE FIRST DAY OF WORK.

STATION FLORA AT STOCKPORT TRAIN STATION. TAKEN 1ST SEPT 2014 – THE FIRST DAY OF WORK.

I’ve never been a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty sort of person; I’m the sort that both enjoys the current glass and is excited about the next pint regardless.

Anyway.

Today marks the end of the first 6 months of PhD training. I thought it’d be a good idea to reflect on what I’ve learned, what I’ve done, existential crises, and looking forward to the next few – and remaining 30 – months!

Learned:

  • That the words “turn” and “framework” mean different things in academia than what I originally thought. (“Turn”, for example, has nothing to do with the Hokey Cokey.)
  • That thinking about place is actually pretty darned cool. I’ve accumulated some thoughts that I’ve had for years to see that there’s some academic thinking that supports a few of them. Also, urban exploration and direct action geography garners new and interesting ways of engaging in place (sadly, I suffer from vertigo so no climbing roofs for me).
  • Rochdale is teeming with some intriguing and weird literary texts. I’ve been mining a rich seam of Lancashire and Rochdale dialect poetry. (Bah ‘eck!)
  • Developed a new admiration for several academics writing on Place. Especially Tim Cresswell and Tim Edensor (the latter Tim’s work in Manchester will inform some of my work on Rochdale).

What I’ve done:

  • Read over 50 books (really, really, I can’t believe that either) and a good handful of academic papers.
  • Managed to churn out nearly 5,000 words in a week and a half. Not sure if any of it made sense.
  • Had two papers accepted for two conferences – exciting but need to write the things now and make them good. Aiming for amazing, will settle for good and/or enjoyable.
  • Attended All Of The Training and relevant CPD offered at my institution. (I’m very fortunate to have a studentship and am making the most of it!)
  • Wrote some poetry in a graveyard in November to a soundscape of long tailed tits, robins and a bitter blackcurrant wind wrapped itself around our fingers. All in the name of research and aesthetics!
  • Volunteered to help with the next PGR Conference and act as a course rep (hey, I’m one of those chirpy volunteers-for-everything-in-the-first-year types).

Existential crises:

  • Early October’s thinking of “I know NOTHING” after looking up a dictionary definition of ‘geography’.
  • Somehow managed to fall over a lot, spill an entire pint of milk on myself without realising until I got home (apologies to the person on the train sitting next to Lactose Woman), stab myself in the face with a pen during a supervision.
  • “To be honest, I don’t know why I’m reading Husserl either; I think I just don’t want to be getting things wrong.”
  • Last night’s insomnia driven: “Why am I doing this? What does it mean? It’s not going to change the shape of the universe. What’s the point of it all? Arrgharrghaaaargh.”

***With the latest panic I’ve been reassured that this is “Normal and Part of the Process of PhD Training”.***

The next few months:

  • Write and present two papers in summer.
  • Run some creative writing sessions for young people before the end of term.
  • Complete a large chunk of thesis and begin planning the transfer part of things.
  • At some point I will write something coherent about what I’ve learned and pop it up on here. I’ve read some amazing thinking on landscape and place on other blogs and websites and would love to share them with you. (Whoever you are!)