The Art of Literature and the Science of Literature

tumblr_m4wy0bJRpy1rx21yio1_500For those interested in Cognitive and Evolutionary Literary Theory – here is a great nutshell sized article by Brian Boyd.

Boyd was the writer that started my PhD journey, offering the central premise of my thesis – that fiction is a form of cognitive play.

He favours an evolutionary approach- the ‘why’ of literature. I favour the neuroscientific/cognitive  - more of the ‘how’. He focusses on the text – whereas I focus on the writing process.

But I wouldn’t be here without him. So enjoy this well written article.

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The Creative Doctorate

3200144082_7e0f6b7cb2_oFor those in the middle of a creative thesis, this special issue of TEXT looks some of the problems with the way the creative thesis is examined, at the moment

If you attended the AAWP conferences in November, and went to the session that discussed this subject, you know it really gets people fired up.

Different universities in Australia have different requirements with regards to how you present creative work as an academic thesis. Some let you do 100% creative with a detail exegesis, but Unimelb requires at least a 50% theoretical component, which means I am doing about 40,000 words of straight theory, and 40,000 words of creative work that plays with the themes of that theory, and hopefully illustrates my argument in a creative way. But discussing my own creative work directly and in detail is not required.

Having the theory set out clearly as theory gives me a bit of hope that the amount of research I have done is fairly clear. I am still nervous that my creative work will not be complex enough, especially as I preferred style of writing is fairly sparse and simply. But then, practicing the process of creative writing, itself, is considered legitimate research by some institutions.

At this stage I am clinging to one phrase that keeps coming up for any kind of thesis – it must be an ‘originally contribution to knowledge.’

If anything, this makes the creative thesis easier to justify, but makes me more nervous about my theoretical stuff. Ahh, swings and roundabouts.

I would be very interested hearing from other academics on how they find a place for their creative work in their research.

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Writing writing writing writing writing…….


I have been writing.

Der, you say!

You are doing a PhD, what did you think you would be doing?

Well I knew I would be writing, I just didn’t realise there were so many different way to do writing.

I have been doing nothing but writing for the past 6 months (if you don’t count the complete meltdown when I decided to build a deck instead, but that is for another post).

Here are the main practices I have tried and how well they have worked for me:

1) Drafting – I tried the usual essay approach to writing a chapter – involving organising a plan, writing an outline, then fleshing it out with quotes, then writing my own ideas/comments in between, then reworking for flow. Some days I would sit all days and write 50 words, other days, words flowed like wine.

This looks like it should work, but sadly my brain does not work well with this approach. I spent months organising the vast amount of information I have into 15,000 words (one chapter), and it did not give me a particularly good rough draft.

2) Boot Camp – for those that don’t know, boot camps for writing involving sitting in a room with other writers, writing as much as you can in a set period of time, with NO EDITING ALLOWED. I did this for my second chapter and surprisingly after a weekend had achieved as much writing as I did in about 2 months with the more traditional approach I used for my first chapter.

Boot camps are useful if you want a really rough first draft, and you have a fair idea of what you want to write about. I will be using this technique for my next chapter. While the writing looks rougher, the ideas are still there and it is just a useful as any other rough draft I have done.

Check if you uni has a ‘shut up and write‘ session, which is a regular, weekly, slightly smaller version. Uni Melbourne has one every Wednesday morning, 9.15 at Tsubu.

3) Redrafting – This takes FOREVER! So get your rough drafting done as fast as possible. I thought I had a pretty good rough draft of that first chapter, until I read it again. HOW COULD I WORK ON IT FOR SO LONG AND IT BE SO SHIT? OK, maybe it wasn’t completely shit, but I am still working on it months later, and it is not because I am a perfectionist.

THERE IS NO POINT PUTTING YOUR HEART AND SOUL INTO A ROUGH DRAFT – JUST WRITE IT. I was only really working out what my chapter was about as I was writing it (this may just be a humanities thing). My arguments only became clear and focussed as I wrote them up. And they have become more focussed with each subsequent draft, and many of those sentences I perfected early on, got cut. Image

4) MOVE ON – Don’t keep working on one chapter. When you write a new chapter/section there is a ripple effect on the one’s you have already written. So move on and keep writing. The faster you write your first drafts, the more time you will have to come back and make your thesis work as a whole.

5) Take some time off – Sometime I feel like I will never ever finish, other times, I feel if I just write constantly, I will get it finished sooner and be able to get on with the rest of my life. BUT A PHD NEVER ENDS, IT IS ONLY ABANDONED.

The need/desire/guilt to write takes over your life, it is a shadow that follows you around, infiltrating every activity in your life, even your dreams. I am  a psychotic bower bird, constantly scanning everything I encounter in case I can use it to feather my thesis nest.  BEWARE – THERE IS NO END POINT TO THIS, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SOMETHING MORE YOU CAN ADD.

It is really useful to walk away for a day or two, or even a week or two, and FORGET IT!!!!!!  When I come back I am always pleasantly surprised, it is not as bad as I thought and I can see more clearly what needs to be done.

Some helpful stuff:

Scrivener is a great rough drafting program. It is cheap and easy to use, the layout makes sense and offers multiple way to view your work – from a straight read to index cards – and you can shuffle your works very easily.

Pat Thompson has lots of great post on the writing process.

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Monash Prize now open

EWF238_EWF_Banner_2000x1042px_v2The Monash Prize is calling for submissions.

It is open to all undergrad (and Honours) Creative Writing students in Australian and New Zealand.

They are looking for 1500-3000 words and “All types of creative writing will be accepted, including short stories, non-fiction narrative and narrative verse.” Take that as you will.

They have great prizes, including cash and kudos, with the winner  announced at The Emerging Writer’s Festival.

Entry is free, but only one allowed per student. They close the 17th of April 2014.

Good luck!!!

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One more conference….

One more conference, this time at Melbourne University, in July 2014, is the Literature and Affect Conference.

Put on by the Australasian Association of Literature, together with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, it promises to include an eclectic and fascinating mix of papers.

Call for papers closes 28th February.

ADDIT: The call for papers date has been extended by 2 weeks to March 14.

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Conferences 2014

plane viennaAs serious PhD students we are always being told of the importance of getting ourselves to conferences and getting our work out there. Here are a few conferences that are right up my alley and you might also be interested in this year – both here and overseas:

PopCAANZ (Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand) Conference is in Hobart,  June 2014. The call for papers closes March 1st. It has lots of great areas of interest for the creative writer.

The 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English is on in Vienna, July 2014. Call for papers closes 15th February. Great conference in a great venue.

The 2nd Cognitive Futures in the Humanities is on in April 2014, in Durham , England, and call for papers closed a few weeks ago. It this is your area of expertise, it might be worth contacting  the organizers to see if they can squeeze you in.

Then there’s the always good AAWP conference, which will be in New Zealand this year, in November, no details yet, but watch this space.

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The art of negative space

No! I am not dead! Just writing. And at the moment trying to find a way to discuss cognitive leaps through the idea of negative space.

For those who don’t know what that means, I found this post, too good not to share - The art of negative space: 15 amazing examples.


And I will post soon, promise.

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Glimmer Train

 The Glimmer Train open fiction short story prize closes on 30th September.

 They’re looking for stories 2000 words plus, with good cash prizes  and possible publication.

 Good luck!

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