How to Write More and Enjoy It

For those that don’t know, November is NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month). Thousands of people will be picking up their pens to write that book they have been planning for years. Maybe you are thinking about starting that first novel or perhaps just want to write more words, more often for your blog or university/school work. This post will breakdown a few tips and tricks that I have learnt whilst doing my PhD.

For the past two years, I have been writing about 10,000 words every six to eight weeks for my PhD supervisions. It can be pretty intense and when I had just started the PhD, I was often rushing to get things done, staying up late, and getting up far too early to meet deadlines. Over time, I have got better at writing by simply learning what makes my writing sessions more productive and less stressful. For more on productivity, check out this post.

Academic Year and You

1. Know what you want to write

I’m sure everyone’s English teacher at school advised you to plan your essay before you start. It might be boring advice, but it is excellent advice. If you don’t know what you want to talk about or the angle that you plan to take with your blog post/essay/whatever, it is going to be much much harder to write. Personally, I find that my ideas develop as I write – it is part of my process – so I’m not suggesting that you should have every sentence thought out. Just take some time to think ahead and you’ll save yourself hours in the long run.

2. Just write something, anything!

When you are trying to write, few things are more terrifying than the blank page. Although I think planning can really help, at some point you have to start writing so just go for it. Don’t overthink things and just get some words out! We are all guilty of trying to craft the perfect sentence or paragraph, of agonising over every word, of deleting and rewriting over and over again. I try not to re-read whilst I’m writing; instead, I just get as many words out as I can and then edit later. For the first draft, any words are better than no words.

3. Set (sensible) goals

When I have a deadline approaching, everything (even cleaning the bathroom or taking out the bins) seems more appealing than writing. I have to persuade myself to write, and I do this by setting myself a goal for the day. It is important to make the goal acheivable but not super easy: I tend to go for 500 words as I can usually manage it even when inspiration isn’t flowing. Then tell someone your goal, like a friend, colleague, or partner. You’ll then have someone to hold you accountable and to celebrate with! The prospect of writing seems so much less daunting when you know exactly what you want to acheive that day.

For some people writing comes naturally but for others (myself included!), it can take time to learn what makes you a more productive and happier writer. These three tips have improved how I work and made writing a much more pleasent process.

Happy writing!

Library shot PhD

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I’m back…sort of

When I started this blog over  eighteen months ago I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I tried it for about six months before deciding to put the blog on a semi-permanent hiatus. Honestly, I wasn’t really enjoying it.

There were many reasons why I wasn’t loving the process. The main one was that I wasn’t creating the content that I really wanted to put out. There was a good argument for this – no one else would probably be interested. I am a PhD student studying medieval literature but I’m also mildly into make-up, skincare, and watch more YouTube videos than is probably sensible. My interests are varied and my lifestyle is very different from most. I’m not quite a student and not quite a researcher. I have very little money, lots of flexibility, and almost no future job stability. My concerns about the academic job market, the demands of academia and research, and the day-to-day nonsense of trying to write a thesis don’t make for a very fun blog.

So when I was putting out my first 30 blog posts – I felt like I had to conform to an existing standard. There were so many other bloggers talking about how to run a sucessful blog, how to get and maintain followers and readers, how to do the perfect flatlay. I didn’t feel like I, my interests, and asethetics fit in. I still have no desire to own anything with marble effect or  a blush pink fluffy cushion. Because of all this, I decided to stop – but now I’m back.

I’m not expecting my blog posts to get many views and I’m not planning on pushing my blog on social media. Rather I’m going to use this platform for me. To write about things that interest and are important to me. For the most part, I just want to practice my writing. I’m in the third year of my PhD now and, over the next eighteen months, I’m going to be writing 100,000 words. I need to get used to sitting down and writing.

I’m not going to committ to a certain number of posts per week – that seems like setting myself up for failure – but I’m going to try put something up fairly regularly. Let’s see how this goes….

Academic Year and You

How to Survive Freshers’ Week

8 years ago today I moved to university and my life changed forever.

That sounds pretty dramatic and it wasn’t a change that happened over night but going to university was a big deal for me and my family.

I loved university. All of it. The best bit was making loads of new friends and gaining independence and all of that started in Freshers’ Week. Freshers is a scary time: you have moved somewhere new, you might be away from your family for the first time, or anxious about making new friends. But it was, for me at least, a wonderful experience.

Lisabeth westwood freshers
This was just as I was moving into my room. It was messy already!

Moving day isn’t just big for you

My parents drove me down to university for the first time. It was a four hour drive and then they helped me unload and move into my student halls. What I really regret though is getting them to leave as soon as I was settled in. I’m sure it upset my mother, even if she has never mentioned it. We all knew I did it because I was excited to start my new life but I didn’t think about how my parents were feeling with their youngest child leaving home. So I’m not saying make your family stay with you all day long but don’t forget that their lives will be changing too.

Introduce Yourself

I was so nervous to meet my new flatmates. I had found most of them on FaceBook beforehand so I knew their names and their degree subjects but that didn’t make it less scary to say hello. Everyone feels that way too! So just bite the bullet and knock on a few doors. My mum had brought me some biscuits and a bottle of wine so I had something to share with people and make it less awkward, and it really worked! I lived in a flat with 8 people and some of them have turned out to be – so far – lifelong friends.

That First Night Out

The first day (and Freshers more generally) can be overwhelming with all the new people and events going on. I decided to throw myself into it and my flatmates immediately decided to join a pub crawl that was happening that evening. Whether you drink or not, these events can be a good opportunity to meet people and explore the campus or town. I did make the mistake of not eating enough beforehand and then drinking so maybe stop by the supermarket on the way to university to pick up some pizzas or easy dinner bits.

Freshers’ Fair

Societies can be a great way to join groups and find new interests. That being said, I never actually joined any! But that doesn’t mean I didn’t go to the Freshers’ Fair and sign up to every mailing list going. I was still receiving emails from the Music Society when I graduated having never gone to a single event! Also, the fair can be a good place to score free pens, food, and vouchers.

Above All, Enjoy Yourself!

However you choose to spend your time; whether you already know people from school going or know no one; whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in the middle (that’s me!) have a wonderful time. Don’t feel pressured to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing and be yourself. My undergraduate degree was a great time in my life!

Lisabeth Westwood graduation freshers
Graduation!

A New Academic Year and You

September is here…

The start of a new academic year. This strikes fear into the hearts of some and for others it makes them excited to shop for academic planners and post it notes. For me, well I’m starting my (let me count…) 21st year of education and that is a little bit mind-boggling.

However, this, my 21st start of year, is different as I’m heading into my second year of my PhD in which I will be teaching myself. No longer just preparing for my own research, I now have to think of the my first year undergrad class and making sure I am ready to start my teaching life!

I love the start of a new academic year. I like buying a new diary, thinking through my goals for the year, and getting excited to meet new people. Considering I have twenty years of education under my belt I thought I would share with you my ideas for starting the year fresh, prepared, and ready to go.

Academic Year and You

Decide Your Planning Style

Some people use their phones, some (like me) an old school paper diary, and others use bullet journals (I will never get my head around those!). Whatever it is you choose to use, use it.

At the start of the year it is so easy to get carried away with signing up for classes and going out with your new friends, and often this means that important dates and deadlines don’t get remembered. Just write them down; then you won’t have to suffer the feeling of dread when you realise you have an essay due in a week and you haven’t even given it a thought.

Plan Your Time

Academic goals and planning

So you have bought an academic planner. What next?

Plan your weeks and days! I have given a little example of what I do here and breaking big goals down into smaller tasks makes it MUCH less intimidating.

It is also important to remember that sometimes life gets in the way and you don’t get things done so don’t beat yourself up and start afresh the next day.

Set Yourself Achievable Goals

A new year is a great time to decide what you want to achieve that academic year and in the past I have been guilty of making very long, over-ambitious lists of goals which I, of course, never reach. Goals don’t have to be all  academic related either, if you want to become Social Secretary of a uni club or society then write it down!

I have a list of things that I want to achieve by the end of my PhD and this helps me to know what I am working towards and keep motivated when the work piles up and I dream of running away where my research can’t find me.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

Whether you are in sixth form, college, or university, education is a great experience and there is always something new to learn. But always remember that having a good time, having new experiences, and exploring your town – or the world! – with your friends is also so important.

Academic Year and You

Old people always say that the years pass so quickly as you age and I, as a 26 year old, can vouch for that. My undergraduate and master’s degree were the best times of my life and I hope this academic year is the same for you!

Good luck to you all starting a new academic year!

 

Top Tips for a Successful Conference

First time conference-goer or seasoned professional? Conferences are a part of loads of different industries but particularly academia. It is where postgraduates and academics share their research and mingle with others to develop relationships. My first conference was in 2013 and I’m only on my third now so they are still rather daunting prospects but here are my top tips for a fun and interesting conference experience.

If you are interested in reading about my PhD more generally, click here.

1. Chat to Strangers

It is not often that you hear that piece of advice but it is so important at a conference. Everyone is more comfortable with their friends or people they work with but conferences are all about meeting new people and developing connections with others working in your industry. These connections could lead to new, cool projects or jobs in the future so move away from your best friend and chat to a complete randomer.

2. Do Your Homework

Okay so you have walked up to that complete stranger but what do you say? My advice is, if it is a small conference, do your homework beforehand: find out who is attending from the programme and have a little google. Just finding about what they work on or where they live can give you something to chat about but try not to sound like a cyber stalker!

3. Eat Dinner Before the Wine Reception

Conferences often have drinks receptions to help people to mingle – a glass or two of Merlot can make talking to people much less daunting BUT pace yourself. When the booze is flowing make sure that you have eaten enough or that you swap drinks with water to make sure you don’t get too tipsy. No one wants to be the person that gets drunk and says something embarrassing plus who likes hangovers?!

Lisabeth Westwood conference phd

4. Paper Preparation

If you are giving a paper or presentation then make sure that you are completely ready before you head off to the conference. Finish writing it, print out your copy, and make sure that your PowerPoint is loaded onto a USB stick. Conferences can be stressful and intense so don’t make it worse by trying to write your paper whilst your there. On the day? Buy a bottle of water. A dry mouth does not make for a fun paper-giving experience.

5. Enjoy Yourself!

Conferences are work but they can also be a really great opportunity to meet some new people and to visit new places. So just enjoy being there and eat all the free biscuits you can.

Lisabeth Westwood Conference Phd

Other Links

How to the make the most of an academic conference

Five tips for successfully meeting people at academic conferences

5 Reasons Why You Should Do a Languages Degree!

I spent four years doing a modern languages degree and I loved it! Here’s why you should consider doing one too.

1. It isn’t just learning vocabulary

Despite the title photo, a languages degree isn’t just grammar and practicing your accent. Most programmes will have literature, film, art, linguistics modules (and more!) so you can fully immerse yourself into another culture. Literature is what I love and I got to read books written from 1170 to 2008 – often at the same time!

2. You get to travel

Most languages degrees require students to spend their 3rd year abroad and then come back for the final 4th year. This is such an incredible opportunity. I went to university in Paris and then taught English in Austria but some of my friends went as far as Argentina, La Réunion, and Canada! The point of the year is to build up your fluency but also to experience life in that country and culture and this usually ends us meaning doing lots of eating – be it baguettes, paella, or pasta.

3. You become fluent in another language

This might sound obvious (and it is!) but being able to rock up to your holiday destination and chat to the locals is such an incredible feeling. You might later want to move countries and another language is a brilliant tool to make that transition so much easier. Also, once you have learnt one language then other (similar) languages become easier to learn. Lots ofprogrammes let you take up a new language – I did this and took German: it was hard but so interesting.

4. It is useful for SO many career paths

Just because you have a languages degree does not mean you can only become a languages teacher. Being a teacher is a brilliant, difficult, rewarding job but there are other things you can do with a languages degree. The obvious ones are directly related, such as translator or interpreter, but the skills you learn are transferable: for example, I have friends who now work in fashion, banking, publishing, and retail management. Languages degrees are also a bonus if you work at an international company!

5. Access to another culture

A languages degree means that you will have an understanding of a different country’s history, politics, literature, music, film industry and so much more. That knowledge is great to help you get a deeper understanding of your own culture but on a more superficial level it means that you have more books, films, poetry, theatre, music all at your finger tips. It also makes you look like an intellectual when you are reading some high brow German literature on the bus!

I absolutely loved my languages degree and tbis is the second in a series of posts all about applying to higher education, the experience at university, and then moving on to masters or doctoral level too!

You can find out more about my PhD experience here.