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When life interferes with blogging

June 5, 2012

It’s been almost a month since my last post and I really don’t have much to write about. Or rather, I have a lot I could write about, but I highly doubt it’d be of much interest to my readers and honestly, I just don’t have the time to string together a well-written piece. So instead of doing that, I’ll just let you know what I’ve been up to.

Since I returned from my mini holiday to England, the work on my thesis has been kicked into high gear. After months of reading, researching, compiling quote files, scribbling down ideas in notebooks, and generally having the thesis looming over my head like a dark cloud, I’ve started writing. I’m currently about 2/3 done with the rough draft and have my defense scheduled for mid-August. I’m here to tell you that everything people tell you about theses and dissertations is true. Your thesis is a mountain: research is going uphill, writing is going downhill? True. A good thesis is a finished thesis? True. It will all come together once you really start writing? True. Not a day goes by that I don’t struggle with writing; sometimes I have issues with getting started, sometimes I have issues with putting my brain-swirls into words – but in the end, I almost always achieve my word count goal for the day. How? Allow me to give you three tips which have saved my life.

Scrivener: this writing software costs $40, but is worth every penny. You’ll need to go through the extensive training sequence to really understand what it’s all about. It’s not a substitute for the regular word processor in which you’ll put together your final draft, but it’s amazing for the everyday writing process. Among other things, Scrivener allows you to import PDF files (articles and books, for instance) on your hard drive into your writing “binder.” You can also import web pages and other media. With a split screen function, you can easily make notes in one screen while reading in another. And on top of that, it has a stellar search function which allows you to easily find that pesky paragraph you’ve had trouble locating.

Buddy-writing system: twice a week, I get together with two of my friends from my cohort at one of our homes. We kick our day off with coffee, discuss our goals for the day, write, have lunch, write some more, and when we have achieved our goals we crack open a beer, maybe watch some TV and have some dinner. This construction stops us from turning into academic hermits. We’re able to ask each other questions, to commiserate, to be silly, but most of all to stimulate each other to get our work done. We have a lot of fun but we also hold each other accountable when someone’s goofing off. If you can find a person or two in your cohort who you get along with okay, I highly recommend setting something like this up.

Goals: Be realistic but also tough on yourself. In addition to deadlines (mid-June for the rough draft, early July for the structured rough draft, 21 July for the polished draft, 7 August for the final draft) I have weekly and daily word count goals. If I miss my daily goal I can make up for it another day, but my weekly goal is set in stone. I need to achieve it and if that means cancelling a dinner date or working through the night, so be it. In this way I cut myself a little bit of slack, but I also hold myself accountable.

Conference and art event
A year ago, I heard that one of my professors was organizing a conference and I offered to help: partly because it would be good experience, but mainly because I really love organizing things. I didn’t do my first undergraduate degree in tourism for nothing, after all. We ended up with a huge organizing team (eight people), three of which were friends from my cohort. The conference, Barbarism Revisited, took place last week and was – we believe – a huge success. After months of negotiating prices with venues and restaurants, making reservations, drawing up maps, scheduling and rescheduling panels, attempting to think of every little detail, trying to prevent any problems before they occurred, drawing up and color coding playbooks, and communicating with our organization counterparts in Bonn, we had a (absolutely exhausting) blast seeing the fruits of our labor during the actual conference on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. In addition to – or rather, extension of – the conference, two of the organization assistants had also organized a one-day art event at a local venue in which local, young artists engaged with the concept of barbarism: Cultuur?Barbaar! This event, too, was a major success, especially considering none of the organization had ever put together such an event before. With lots of financial support from the city and other, smaller organizations and about a pint of elbow grease, the event was deemed (by many of its visitors) so successful that they left asking when the next installment would be organized.
In the process of these two events, I learned many things about applying for funding, planning academic and social activities, and everything that comes with organizing an event of this scale. I also, perhaps more importantly, learned how much fun it can be to interact with fellow grad students from fellow universities, that edible bugs are real ice breakers and are found thoroughly exciting by a large number of people, and that trying to bake 250 fortune cookies the day before a conference might not be the best idea but will pay dividends in the end.

Now that life has returned to normal, it’s back to finishing the thesis, which oddly I’m not sick of yet. Every day, I get more excited about what I’m putting together and I look forward more and more to getting a chance to submit and defend it. I might not get a real summer holiday, but I’m convinced it’ll be worth it in the end – when I’m teaching at The Hague University full time next year.

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