Reflections on 2014 and Resolutions for 2015

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Hello, 2015!

I have found myself super excited to begin this new year and a new phase in my life. So excited, in fact, that I woke up at 5am and couldn’t fall back to sleep! While I’ll remedy my lack of sleep with a nap later today, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the amazingness that was 2014 and document my plans, expectations, and resolutions for 2015.

To say that February 2014 was a good month is an understatement. I received a series of amazing notifications:  I was awarded a travel grant for a conference presentation, a fellowship to complete my dissertation during the 2014-15 academic year, followed by another fellowship to work on my dissertation during the summer of 2014, and notification that I was selected to present at Wayne State’s 2014 Graduate Research Exhibition. This was all cherry-topped with the news that my article on Mary de Morgan, “Seeds of Subversion in Mary de Morgan’s ‘The Seeds of Love,’” was accepted for publication pending revision. (This article has since been accepted for publication and will appear in Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, volume 29, issue 2 in 2015).

Yet beyond the this excellent news, February 2014 validated my original evaluation of my research and dissertation project: it is worthwhile and important. Before entering my doctoral program, I had not doubted that my research was important. I was shocked to find how very little had been written on the topic of 19th c. fairy tales by women when I first became interested in Mary de Morgan. Most scholarship on the topic is to be found in anthologies of the tales themselves, but these are usually on the topic fairy tales in general or Victorian fairy tales (many if not most written by men). The opportunity for innovative scholarship on the topic was (and still is) practically wide-open and the need to “rediscover” and/or bring to scholarly light the works of neglected female authors persists. But despite my own enthusiasm for my research, doctoral programs were far less enthusiastic. It was made explicitly clear to me by the DGS that I was accepted NOT for my interest in Victorian fairy tales but instead for the list of additional research interests I included in my purpose statement, such as women’s literature in general and sensation novels. I was admitted in spite of my research in fairy tales, not because of it.

But with the help of February 2014, I was finally able to put aside my inferiority complex regarding my research on 19th-century British fairy tales by women. Despite the general consensus that I will not be hired for my work on fairy tales, people are more than happy to hear me discuss them at conferences. And I have clearly become quite adept at selling my research to earn funding, as the multiple fellowships, research awards, and travel grants indicate. Surprisingly, the DGS assured me that I was awarded the Rumble Fellowship by a unanimous vote of the department’s graduate committee. So while at the beginning of my doctoral program, my research in and of itself was not valuable or scholarly enough, I now find that this perception has changed as I quickly approach graduation:  Perhaps fairy-tale research is undervalued, but *my* fairy-tale research is worthwhile AND worth funding.

Beyond the flurry of activity in February, 2014 saw me make a lot of progress on my dissertation. In fact, I submitted my 5th chapter (of 6 chapters) to my director on Jan. 1, 2015. All that remains is 1 more chapter and an introduction, so I am very much on track to defend in early March and graduate in May. I also moved “home” to MN to finish my dissertation writing and perform archival research on the British literary annual at the U of MN. I returned to University of St. Thomas for an invited presentation on Letitia Elizabeth Landon and the proto-feminist fairy tales she published in literary annuals as well as to sit on a panel discussing what could be done with a BA in English (the audience of this panel was a classroom of English majors). I also presented at several conferences, all on the topic of my dissertation research, and have applied for several teaching positions for 2015-16.

Additionally, I returned to physical therapy for some balance work, and I began taking watercolor classes. I also utilized HabitRPG to encourage the development of new and productive habits and to meet the various goals I have set for myself, including periodic blogging.

I feel confident stating that 2014 has been a wonderfully productive and successful year for me.

As I look forward to 2015, I anticipate my dissertation defense and the conferral of my Ph.D. I am particularly looking forward to leaving behind my student status after 10 consecutive years of higher education. I want to experience adulthood that is about working rather than studying, and I very much want to settle down into a stable job that will offer me the same challenges I have come to enjoy over the last 10 years.

I have further found that I have missed teaching while I have been on fellowship. I have not missed grading, but I do miss the interaction with students, the development of courses, course topics, learning objectives, lesson plans, and assignments, as well as witnessing students’ “aha” moments. I have also missed the class rapport and discussions, and as I work on writing my dissertation, I wish I could share my writing process with my students and inspire them to continue writing every day. I therefore plan to return to the classroom, to teach new courses and help new students, and perhaps to use my recent interest in online pedagogy to teach a hybrid or online course in 2015.

Additional resolutions:

  1. Read Dickens’ novels, 1 chapter a day, beginning with Oliver Twist, to try to duplicate the serialized original and experience if the novels appear less overwhelming in small pieces (to perhaps implement in the classroom).
  2. Become more active to reverse some of the unhealthy effects of sitting to read and write every day, as well as to possibly increase my balance and strength deficits.
  3. Work on publishing my dissertation.
  4. Begin new research projects and continue current ones on topics ranging from the literary annual, the femme fatale, Letitia Landon, etc.
  5. Enjoy the experience of transitioning from student to professional!

I’m sure I’ve forgotten to note some of the fantastic events of 2014 as well as some of my plans for 2015, but I’ll leave it at that. It has been a fantastic year of discovery and success and I hope that continues in 2015. Essentially, I hope to continue working my passion.

HabitRPG: I (aka my avatar) Died!

Since beginning my archival research on the Victorian literary annual, I have been exhausted. Simply exhausted. The Bell Library, which houses the Wilson Library Special Collections and Rare Books, is only open from noon to five o’clock during the summer, and yet even as little as three hours of research knocks me out, and it’s not just due to the quality of the texts I’m reading (most are fascinating but there are admittedly some doozies that could easily put a reader to sleep).

Yet other than my general fatigue, my research has had a most disastrous effect on my HabitRPG success since this morning I died (gasp!).

HabitRPG.com Avatar

My Avatar (dressed as a mermaid and riding a desert wolf)

I’ve been falling behind on my habits and dailies the last few weeks and my health bar has consequently been dropping. This was, however, avoidable, had I been paying attention (I could have bought a health potion to stave off death). Alas, I hadn’t realized my precarious position and failed to do so.

Dramatics aside, “death” in the game is not so bad I’m finding. I lost a level (no big deal), 1 item (in my case an arch mage hat that can easily be repurchased), and all my gold (sad but again, not a big deal).

But it was enough of a shock to (hopefully) re-motivate me to push past the exhaustion to be productive. (Although I make no guarantees…Even as I write this, I would love to go back to bed.)

Moreover, the question I had regarding what happens when your HabitRPG avatar dies has been answered. 🙂

(Dissertation) Writing Tips

These are the steps that I have found productive in my personal dissertation-writing experience so far. While mostly basic and unoriginal, the tips below are tried and true in my experience. They may not work for everyone, but they are working for me, and so I’ll (re)share in the hopes that someone else finds them helpful.

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1. Write every day.

Or almost every day. As regularly as possible. I’ve discussed this in a previous post, with links to other sites that offer similar tips and discuss daily writing specifically. When I wrote that post, I was just about to begin my trial run of daily writing.

Like most graduate students I know, I was previously a binge-writer, setting aside large amounts of time to write a lot all at once and then taking some days off. Although it has taken me several months to get into a daily (or almost daily) writing groove, it truly is amazing how much more productive I (feel I) am. Regularly working on my dissertation has also the side benefit (other than the main benefit of progress) of reducing my stress and guilt. Moreover, I can still binge-write; some days I might only write a sentence or paragraph, plan an outline of the direction I plan to take next, or read and take notes in preparation of writing the next day, while other days I will sit down for 6-8 hours and write.

But it’s important to note that by “write every day,” I do not necessarily mean WRITE. Perhaps work would be better, but writing is such a major component of the process that I think it needs to be emphasized. Once a complete draft is written, reading and incorporating secondary sources as well as revision are equally productive and necessary tasks. I therefore might not actually “write” anything that day yet I have prepared for the next day’s writing task.

1.2. Write every day even while teaching.

While I must note that my productivity has increased a lot since I began my fellowship and have not had to worry about teaching preparation and grading at the same time, it is also important to find ways to prioritize writing and research while teaching, especially because the final goal for most of us is to find a academic position that will require research and teaching.

One way I incorporated my own productivity into my composition classroom is through a Daily Writing Challenge. Basically, students could earn some extra credit points by posting daily writing (related to the course, such as paragraphs or outlines for writing assignments, reflections on or plans for progress in the course, etc.) to our course’s Blackboard Discussion Board. I posted as well, and if I did not meet the 6 out of 7 days a week goal I set for my students and myself, students earned freebie days they could skip as well. (So if I posted 5 days one week, students only needed to post 5 days to earn bonus extra credit points for completing the challenge for the week). Knowing I’m not helping my students progress by handing out unearned points motivated me to prioritize my own daily writing practices even while being busy teaching.

HabitRPG (discussed previously here and here) has also proven an excellent tool to encourage my own daily writing.

Moreover, Gregory Semenza just wrote on the benefits of writing in short 10-15 minute bursts throughout the day, in “The Value of 10 Minutes: Writing Advice for the Time-Less Academic;” these daily writing bursts can take place in between classes or any time some spare time is found.

2. Have a comfortable and dedicated writing space.

This really helps the writing process as I know when I sit down at my desk (or stand at my desk…more on that coming soon), I am preparing to write. Sure, I end up playing online games and checking out Facebook or Pinterest, but more often than not, writing occurs without me forcing myself to do so. A thought will pop into my mind that I begin to work out in writing, or my notes will catch my eye and inspire a new direction or nuance that I’ll want to immediately begin to record.

But comfort is also important, and the more you write in your dedicated space, the more you’ll realize what adjustments can and should be made to improve productivity. For instance, I purchased a separate keyboard a few days ago after becoming frustrated at how high my laptop sat on my desk; with the separate (and wireless) keyboard on my desk’s keyboard shelf, I’m sitting in a much more comfortable and natural writing position, without the edge of my desk digging into my wrists or my back aching from leaning forward.

3. Know your writing process.

This may seem basic but it is important, and if you don’t already know your writing process, you probably will by the time you’re halfway through your dissertation. This knowledge will certainly prove useful as you try to optimize your productivity.

I know my process begins with marking up the primary source, followed by drafting, researching, incorporating secondary sources, revising, and proofreading. I know that researching before I write my analysis usually leaves me confused and overwhelmed. I also know that I will inevitably write more during the drafting process, followed by less writing while I research and read secondary sources, followed by a final return to the writing process. Because I know this, I don’t worry when I’m not making visible progress on my written draft when I hit the secondary source stages; progress is still being made even if concrete evidence of it cannot be seen, and the bulk reading and note taking (or rather, quotation flagging) will pay off in a quicker incorporation and revision process.

4. Plan your writing projects strategically.

By this I mean that you don’t necessarily have to write your introduction first, followed by Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. I began with my middle chapter first because I felt most confident in the argument being made in it and I already had ~40 pages written on the topic from my Master’s Essay. I chose my next chapters based on scheduled conference presentations related to the topics, as well as based on which chapters had the most written on the subject from previous term papers and presentations. I know I’ll be leaving the introduction until the end, and I’ve also decided to wait to work on one of my chapters because it easily drops out of the project if I run out of time to complete it and defend in order to graduate in May 2015 (my current plan involves an intro, seven chapters, and a coda and therefore more than meets any length requirements even with one chapter dropped).

I’ve also allowed whim and muse to play a role in my writing process. If I’m trying to decide what chapter to work on next, and I’m not particularly interested in the subject at the moment, I choose a subject and chapter that does interest me. Writing about something I like and care about at the moment only increases my productivity and has me still loving my project even after several months of writing.