Month: December 2015

Writer’s block: inevitable but fixable

I was just reading an interview with the author Neil Gaiman and found this answer on the topic of writer’s block rather relevant:

“Writer’s block is this thing that is sent from the gods—you’ve offended them. You’ve trod on a crack on the pavement, and you’re through. The gods have decided. It’s not true. What is really true is you can have a bad day. You can have a bad week. You can get stuck. But what I learned when I was under deadline is that if you write on the bad days, even if you’re sure everything you’ve written is terrible, when you come to it tomorrow and you reread it, most of it’s fixable. It may not be the greatest thing you’ve ever written, but you fix it, and actually it’s a lot better than you remember it being. And the weird thing is a year later when you’re copyediting and reading the galleys through for the first time in months, you can remember that some of it was written on bad days. And you can remember that some of it was written on terrific days. But it all reads like you. Fantastic stuff doesn’t necessarily read better than the stuff written on the bad days. Writers have to be like sharks. We keep moving forward, or we die.”

For the whole article see here:



Ho Ho Ho-oh no, not theory again!

111 days and counting until the PhD has to be written, formatted, bound and submitted and its fair to say that I am starting to panic more than a little bit.

With my deadline looming I have started re-reading my front-end theory chapters and turns out they are a bit of a shock! They were written about 20months ago and the latest draft of each about 15/18 months ago. Unsurprisingly, my writing style has developed and matured in the time since the creation of these chapters.

If I read them objectively (or try to), pretending they belong to a student of mine, I am less than impressed. They aren’t terrible but neither are they up to standard. I can cover them in copious amounts of red pen and feel good about myself for pointing out the flaws and the areas that need fixing. But…

…sat at my laptop with a blank screen ready to act on the red pen notes and rewrite the chapters, I am stuck. It’s easy just to change the way I have articulated points (and this does need doing in places) but by doing this I avoid actually rewriting the chapter. I think it stems from a worry of whether this next draft, especially this close to my deadline, will be good enough.

What if it isn’t good enough??

I could rewrite it again and again ,but what if it is never good enough? By this stage in my PhD career my work should be edited to a good standard and some of my more recently created chapters are – almost.

It is almost as if once I have written something one way, I then have a mental block on how to improve or re-write it. Quite a large part of the success or failure of my PhD will depend on my ability to hurdle this particular block.

The solution I am going to attempt to apply is to tackle each chapter separately, and each section within them in turn. To read through with red pen in hand and then write myself a new chapter plan with details for each section. I find that planning each point I want to cover, almost on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis has helped me to keep sections and chapters on track. Perhaps it will keep me from simply rewording these theory chapters.

I am faced with doubts about whether or not I actually know what I want to say about the theory, about what my theoretical stance actually is and how theory applies to and has influenced my thesis.

I know, on the whole, what I want my research to say and what it contributes to knowledge (or at least will do if I can do it justice). But I have been so involved with the minute of my results that switching to editing the broader theory chapters is proving more challenging than I thought it would be. Just as challenging is making sure the theoretical points I discuss are made relevant to the results of my research and my thesis as a whole otherwise the reader (and the examiners!) will find themselves thinking “Great, but SO WHAT!?”.

Research data is seen through a cloud of theory or so Johnson (2010, 106) tells us. Data and theory cannot be separated. So I must persevere and continue to theorise my way to a pair of successfully edited, and relevant, chapters.

There’s no escaping the fact that theory is academia and academia is theory.


Reference: Johnson, M. 2010 Archaeological Theory: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester)

How do you ‘finish’ a PhD? 111 days and counting…

111 = days I have until my hand in deadline.

1197 = days since I started my PhD research.

With 111 days to go until the thesis has to be written, bound and submitted, it is fair to say I am starting to panic more than a little bit. Perhaps panic isn’t quite the right word – I am starting to feel the overwhelming weight of pressure more than I have done since I started this in 2012. Pressure to succeed from (and for) myself, but also pressure not to have wasted the time and support of my parents, not to mention my exceedingly patient supervisor.

The pressure has always been there but the deadline has been a distant and disconnected being. Now, as that entity is very much present and connected, I have felt a shift in the nature of the pressure I have been feeling.

You can read a multitude of articles online about what its like for a final year PhD student and indeed throughout the experience as a whole. Some deal with the unexpected mental cost suffered by PhD students such as this one. But in my experience reading about it hasn’t exactly helped. Sure it has made me aware of the fact that I am not the first to feel this shift in pressure and I certainly won’t be the last.

But the issue still remains: how am I going to get through the last 111 days and submit a successful thesis?

I’m not sure I have an answer and I’m even less sure I will have found one by the time I submit.

I have increasingly struggled with avoidance issues in these last 6 months before my deadline. There are so many other things I can be doing (like writing this post!). I have puzzled about why, when I am still passionate about my thesis and enjoy my work, have I found myself subconsciously doing things to actively avoid it. The answer I came up with is fear, looming self doubt and the imposter syndrome.

Fear: will I actually produce a thesis worthy of a PhD? Will I fulfil the expectations of myself / my parents / my supervisor?

Self doubt: can I do what I need to to bring my thesis up to a state in which it can be submitted? Am I really a good enough academic to achieve a PhD?

Imposter syndrome: am I good enough? I’m not as good as my colleagues and don’t deserve to be here! This is a feeling suffered by most PhD students, particularly in their first years but is one that never goes away. There is always someone you think is better at your job than you are and you can never quite fathom why those in the ivory tower ever let you begin your research in the first place.

Its all well and good telling myself to have a stiff upper lip and persevere in order to get through the 111 days but will this really help me?

I don’t know. I know that I feel marginally better for reading about PhD life online, for writing about it here and I am sure I would if I talked to friends and family about it. Certainly being aware of the pressure shift and actively doing something, anything, to help myself through is beneficial.

For me, getting to my deadline will be about being clear with myself what I need to do to bring my thesis up to the required standard. What exactly is it I need to write and edit to produce a thesis that can be submitted with confidence and pride? I will do my best to remember to get through these 111 days in my way and not feel guilty for not pulling all night writing sessions or spending 16 hours a day in the office. No doubt these will happen at some point but finishing this thesis will be best achieved in my own way.

Will the 1308 days spent on this research be worth it? I hope so. It has already jump started a career in commercial archaeology for me and I hope it will do the same in the academic sphere. Whatever happens I will (hopefully) have produced something I can be proud of and is a piece of research that has something to contribute to our collective knowledge. here’s hoping I can do the research justice!

As the saying goes, keep calm and carry on.