Friday, 26 September 2014

Post 33: My Newfound Joy: A Writing Group!

Phew, September has WHIZZED by faster than I can account for! (Which isn't that unusual.) :)

As a graduate student who's had an office in a building located on the margins of campus (right by Mystic Vale, for those who know it), I spent much of the last eight months alone there. Of the four people that I shared an office with when I first moved there in August of 2013, one had graduated by November, another graduated in the spring, and starting in January of this year, had decided to work primarily at home (which is fair). But, the result was that I spent a lot of time in isolation, being a little bit (and at times a lot) overwhelmed by the impostor syndrome, not realizing that's in large part what I was dealing with (unsuccessfully at the time), and it took a number of things changing in the past few months to really get a grip on what it's meant for me.

One of the biggest breakthroughs was starting to talk to people about my despair, and quite continuous feelings of insecurity, doubt, lack of confidence, and that general feeling that someone would walk into my office and say, "Hey, that doesn't count as research! You're a fraud! You don't belong here!" (Oh yes, wonderful.)

Another breakthrough was when one of my colleagues, Garrett, started to spend his days full-time in our building, and when we started to simply have lunches together, what began as conversations about things we both enjoyed, became some thesis related discussions that proved to be incredibly valuable for me. As a PhD student, his perspective was very insightful and helpful, including strategies for various ways to approach writing different thesis section. (SO GOOD!)

There was also a different power dynamic when I was speaking with Garrett: I didn't have the usual fear and trepidation I sometimes have with professors, who also, admittedly, are often further in time from doing thesis-related work than a PhD student who recently completed their MA/MSc. I realize that obviously professors are doing research and publishing all the time, and that those are the skills (some of them) that we're learning in grad school, but the dynamic was incredibly close-knit and collegial.

Last few days of summer weather exploring downtown: this little water taxi
parked down by Wharf Street!
Another conversation with another colleague produced these two golden-advice nuggets: write the smallest amount necessary. Master's theses are expected to be between 75 and 100 pages. Not more. Considering that my monograph thesis won't be published in its current form, perhaps this is even more applicable advice. I'll be doing a fair bit of re-writing to get anything down to a useful size for journal article publishing, and if it'll become a book, then that'll need a good deal of rewriting, too!
Her second advice-bit was one that changed my perspective: she told me that I had done certain things (a whole lot of reading, lots of writing, conducting interviews and journaling, in my case), and now I had to stop doing the continuous reading, and write about what I did! In the past tense. Which was SO helpful! Without realizing it, I had been caught in this continuous slide of "I haven't read enough here, or here", and "I need to find out more about this..." and was stuck in this endless loop of reading further and more, instead of stopping to finally try to account for what I had already done.

Now, I've joined a writing group, and it's been fantastic! We're a group of grad students from across campus. Usually, 3-6 show up, due to availability. The group runs Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. While we're all writing different things, and really are in different stages, it's really nice to have a productive space carved out. I've found I'm much more motivated to work in this supportive atmosphere. This afternoon we really actively engaged in doing successful Pomodoros, with one person setting a timer, and us standing up and doing a few stretches. We drew a picture on the whiteboard for every successful Pomodoro done.

Pomodoro day! And yes, can you guess what the weather was doing? 
I'm enthusiastic about writing again, my perspective has shifted to feel more positive about how do-able my thesis is, and I have started to get really engaged with what I need to do in order to write successfully on my thesis, such as writing downhill, so that when I stop at the end of the day, I know what I'm starting with the next day again. What that means is that I'll write a short note about the next paragraph in the section that needs putting together. As well, though, the amount of time (so far) that it's taken me to break into the writing phase has decreased. It now only takes me a few minutes of mental groaning before I can commit to a good writing session, which has been very helpful outside of this group, too.

Revisiting the Joan Bolker book that my colleague Maddy shared with me was also useful to mine for some more writing tips, like: "Write one day at a time" to deal with any guilt or negative feelings about having missed a writing day. Wahooo!

If you get a chance to make a writing group come together, do it. I joined a small group that was already underway before me, and it's evolved in the past week as well to include more new people. It's a very supportive and productive space for me, and I really look forward to going. Especially when we can book a nice 4-6 hour period in a row.

Now, cheers to more writing!

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