Resolutions old and new

It has got to the time of year where one traditionally assesses the progress of the last 12 months and sets out ones plans for the next 12 months.
Its a somewhat depressing tradition for those of us not inclined to make the newspapers with our epic adventures and financial gains; but it does help put some perspective and motivation to the whole time-passing malarky Continue reading


Dear Baby PhD Students,

Learn from my mistakes: No matter how tempting it is to just write down the book or authors, no matter how rigorous you are about creating your bibliography or putting references in EndNote (or whatever equivalent system you have)  – Do Not forget to put page nos. with any specific ideas.

I am currently checking pages for literally hundreds of references. Now don’t get me wrong I was (I thought) meticulous in my note-taking and most of my key texts are easy to find and neatly organised but all of those little assertions I threw in to flesh the argument out with ideas from years of research – aaargh!!

Nearly There!

Grammar Fascism

There are certain things I like about good grammar.
I wince at poorly placed apostrophes and would rather people used the appropriate spelling
But for me the sense and sound of a work are more important than the rules..

My supervisor disagrees.

She is firm that the infinitive should never be split and generally verbs formed of several words shouldn’t be either. She feels that ‘not only’ can only be followed by ‘but also’ (there should be no split between the but & the also; and no substitutes for the also, such as additionally, are acceptable). She utterly despises sentences ending in a preposition – which would be easier if whence didn’t sound such a tragic archaism. She believes that nor can only be used with neither.. and must never be used as a conjuction in its own right (e.g. does not x nor acts as y). In fact she even disapproves of contractions.

I just can’t bring myself to ditch my terrible colloquialisms entirely. I love to add a casual adverb into my verbal phrase, I enjoy the rhetoricising feel of nor and don’t feel the need to balance my clauses precisely. I find moving my prepositions sounds artificial and frankly I’m finding the whole process rather tedious.
I cannot ignore her completely especially where actually her thoughts about the grammar help make my writing smotther and thoughts clearer. But…

So what are your thoughts? Which grammar rules do you flout?

Rewriting-Sleep Patterns

Just when I thought that I had achieved a quasi-socially acceptable sleep pattern a combination of thesis and sofa rest have dragged me back to my natural hours.

The trouble is that my natural preferred studying/writing time is between 11pm and 3am. I can get up early, no really I can, its just that my brain doesn’t function very well. Naturally, until I have been awake for 3 or 4 hours my conversation is stilted and higher intellectual considerations just don’t happen which is why out of preference I will clean the house, read webcomics, walk or lift and carry at work.
The brain can be kick-started early (as required for conferences) but that inevitably causes a mid-afternoon crash, where a slow burn my give me a few creative hours between 4 and 7pm. The body will be awake as long as I ask it to be and usually a little longer than I want but tends towards approx. 10hrs optimum amount of sleep broken into between 2 and 4 chunks and usually waking me around midday regardless.

My parents have always tended towards late mornings and later nights, a preference definitely encouraged by a few years in continental Europe. During my A-levels I often did my homework til gone 3 in the morning before rising at 7ish to go to the gym before breakfast and school. I fuelled my sleeplessness with coffee, alcohol, over-the-counter painkillers and self-harm; often crashing into listless naps under my desk, incessant headaches and delusions. As a first-year undergraduate, depression unabated and anxiety spiralling out of control, I discovered the luxury of a Humanities timetable and remembered the delight of academic coasting which led to sleeping my days away and occasional 48 hr essay-writing spurts. A full-time job with notoriously anti-social hours and a part-time masters shunted me back to the insomnia end of the scale but when I started my PhD I was determined to be healthier and after eventually realising I needed to take time out for my mental health I have also been working on creating a sleeping pattern that correlates with common social working hours.
I was just about managing (shift pattern aside) 1/2am-10.30/11.30am in bed…

But my need for silence and brain power has reasserted itself, 3am-midday has become the norm and my rewrites have become increasingly frantic as I try to pull myself back towards working during the day! I don’t know whether 2am writing is the most coherent but at least it flows and til the thesis is submitted thats all I can hope for.


I have never submitted an article to an academic journal [Blame time constraints or lack of confidence in my material] – perhaps one day…

But what I have spent a surprisingly long time doing is helping my wife footnote and format her articles for different journals. For those of you who don’t deal in the minutiae of academia a brief explanation might help: academic journals all have a house-style which means that they want your headings and sub-headings to be consistent with other articles, they want a specific type of citation and have preferences about fonts, margins and footnotes. Journals are internally consistent but can be wildly different from each other even in the same discipline. Some author guidelines are several pages long and if you want to get published you sure as hell better read them because its ruthless out there..

I have come to the conclusion that the process is labyrinthine and laborious primarily to make you (the author) feel like you have really earned your place amongst the pages.
I have also realised that the key reason they make you do it – is so they don’t have to. It is long slow work reading and reviewing articles even if you are interested in the topic but checking commas and margins and references…it would be never-ending. I am pretty anally-retentive about style but I could never be a professional proof-reader!

So it is with some trepidation that I approach editing my thesis and acknowledge the mammoth task ahead. Also am I ready to write my own articles yet?…

Collating and editing

56,000 words, 124 pages
(or 65,000 & 143 incl. contents, biblio & footnotes – thats 5,000 words worth of footnotes!)

Today I put a whole load of words into one document to send to my supervisors; I updated the Contents in order to reflect the actual shape of the thesis and I started again with the editing and shifting process in Chapter 4. I know realistically I am putting off writing the summary of the chapter out of a fear of how weak my conclusions sound. On the other hand it is always good to try to draw together threads and themes in a way that can only really work when you address the organisation of the whole.

So where am I at in terms of progress?
Introduction: More or less complete 1,500
Chapter 1: Essentially rejected as solely in note form  approx 10,000 – not incl. in above word count – projected length c. 15,000
Chapter 2: Perhaps two-thirds written. Needs extension on Strabo, revision of Pliny and opening sections, and summary  – currently approx 20,000 words – projected 25-30,000
Chapter 3: Two-thirds written. Needs extension of commentary on Copeland Borlase, Hitchins and Drew, Whitaker’s supplement to Polwhele, the early academic theorists. Also Summary to write. Currently 25,000 words – projected 30-40,000!
Chapter 4: Three quarters done? Summary to write and overall editing.. currently 15,000 – projected c. 18-20,000
Chapter 5: Nil

At the moment it looks like it might be a touch on the long side if I include what I expect to… Still better to be cutting than frantically pushing to reach the lower limits.
Time-wise I am still moving too slowly though.

So back to the grind