Monday, 8 December 2014

Blogmas 8: University #12: Dissertation?

I realised that I haven't uploaded a #University post in a while - mostly because I've been so busy with it! - so I thought I'd rectify that today.

Dissertations are a huge part of most university degrees - particularly in Humanities but other subjects have extended research projects which fulfill the same criteria. Also, as far as I'm aware, most degrees allow to you to pick whether or not you want to do a dissertation. It can be a pretty intimidating decision to make. When I was deciding whether or not I should do a dissertation, a huge part of it was the money - will I be paying £9,000 for a essentially a glorified library pass and three hours of contact time?

Now, 12/16 weeks into the dissertation, I am pretty confident to say that I made the right decision in choosing to do one.

My dissertation has taught me so so much about the way I work, as well as my creative style as a writer. I am very much one of those people who can 'bang out' words, and I find it very easy to hit word counts for my essays etc. However, all of my work is in the editing process. Over the course of my dissertation I have written well over 10,000 words of content - 2/3rds of extra material is sitting on my hard drive (my story is meant to be 6,000 words). I am currently at the 6,100 mark, which I am more than happy with, and I still need to do a little more editing so that number should fluctuate (and hopefully drop) a little more.

As a writer I have learnt that I have a very minimalist, distant style and I find it hard to get into the minds of my characters - I prefer to show their actions than tell their thoughts. I also work best when I focus on 'action' scenes. My story is a series of vignettes (short scenes which don't follow a traditional story arc), which means that each scene is specifically working to move my story along. I have found out that I find it hard to write a full story plot (I struggle with narrative arc), but am actually very realistic with my dialogue (something that I always hated writing as it feels very fake to me).

I've also learnt that I need small goals. I get so much encouragement out of hitting a word count. At the start, when it was literally a matter of creating content, I told myself I had to write 500 words on my dissertation each day.

I learnt that I find it so much easier to hand write in the initial stages of story development, but once I've found my voice I can type directly onto the document. Keeping each scene as a separate document worked well in the early stages, but hindered me later on.

This all might sound really boring to you, but for me it is fascinating.

The best thing about a dissertation is it gives you a glimpse into your own mind. It allows you the time to explore your own way of working. And that is what you are really paying the money for. My supervisor is great and her feedback is helpful, but what's most valuable about this experience is spending time letting myself write about what I want to write about.

All this said and done a dissertation is not for everyone.

It requires a lot of self control and time management. If you're not good at working alone without motivation from others this won't be the right move for you.

It also requires a passion. I am lucky that my passion is writing, so I could say 'Yes, I want to spend four months writing a short story' and not know what that story was going to be about. If you're doing a more academic dissertation you need to have an interest in what you want to study and have an angle on what you want to write about. Do research your area of study and make sure what you want to do hasn't been done before.

If you do want to do a dissertation, research ahead of time and figure out which lecturers would be good for you - and if you're unsure ask around. Your favourite tutor might not have a specialty in the area you're looking to study, or if they are popular their slots might fill up quickly. I asked my supervisor this time last year - if you know what you want to do its never too early to ask!

The long and short of it is: if you want to learn more about yourself and know you have the motivation and interest, do a dissertation. If you know you don't have that self control or don't know what you'd study, stick to programmed modules.

I hope that's been helpful! Let me know if you're doing you dissertation and what you're doing it on - you can tweet me @VickiMaitland or leave a comment below.

Tomorrow's post is my #reviewsdaytuesday of my Kanken!

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