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#academic writing

I have a paper I’m presenting at a conference in two months.

It’s going to be on Zelda and the Apocalypse, but to frame what I want to talk about properly, I have to set up Apocalypse and Post-Apocalypse.

So I get to also talk about:

Horizon Zero Dawn

The Last of Us

Jak 2


Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

and it all FITS.

Yeah, being a PhD is stressful as HELL but I can sometimes get to pull off something like THIS and it is GLORIOUS.

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I’ve been procrastinating for a long time, so I’m going to force myself to do this assignment even though i hate writing essays.

I’ll listen to classical music while reading the articles, I’ll highlight everything that can help me prove my main claim, I’ll write myself everything i want to say in bullet points, and I’ll listen to my fave music while writing the essay itself.

I’m going to read the article (again, cause I’ve used this article for the previous essays).

See yall later 😘

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Ughhhhhhhhhhh I HATE writing papers.

It’s ironic isn’t it? Because I love to write. Writing is awesome and amazing. But I have to do it on my own terms and in my own way or it isn’t fun. That’s why writing academic papers sucks ass. Because they tell you every. little. thing. to. do. And give you absolutely no freedom or creativity to do something you want (even within the confines of the subject).

But that’s probably why I suck at taking fic prompts too. Because once I take a prompt, it’s someone else’s idea, not mine.

Idk I just hate the way the university system is set up. It’s never clicked with my learning style and academic papers are just a personification of the failures of a system that refuses to bend and mold to different learning styles. At least I’m getting close to graduation I guess. I’m sick of this shit lol.

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Please enjoy some salty marginalia from an article I read three weeks ago and evidently Did Not like: 

  • This is a gross oversimplification
  • [name redacted]’s usual hyperbole
  • Shameless exaggeration
  • This is (1) not even sort of true and (2) a ridiculous statement to make if you know literally anything about theatre history
  • Yeah, you can “interpret” it any way you want but that doesn’t make it good scholarship
  • This is a fucking lot to read into a record made by one (1) person
  • Not “insightful” but rather staggeringly obvious
  • Not sure what dictionary definition you got for “decisive” but if you have to add a footnote saying nobody else has been able to draw the same conclusion you’re using it wrong
  • This paragraph is three times longer than it needs to be and it still doesn’t mean shit
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It’s CFP season, and I’ve been working on paper proposals. Abstracts are always tricky for me—striking that balance between giving enough context, succinctly stating the argument, and making it exciting/leaving the reader curious is devilishly hard.

So, gradblr, what’s your best advice for writing abstracts?

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I’ve been looking back at past personal statements, research statements, grant applications, etc. and I noticed they all follow the same general format and because I have a decent batting average as these things go, I thought it might be helpful to share, so here’s that outline at its most basic:

  1. why I’m interested in this position/fellowship/program/etc.
  2. what makes me qualified (or the most qualified) for it
  3. how I intend to use this opportunity 
  4. how that would help them/their mission
  5. thanks for your time and consideration

Make it specific to you and put it in complete sentences and ta-da, you have a statement.

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Hello M! :) Thank you so much for both your creative writing and your blogs - you've been such a source of inspiration, joy, and guidance for me. I'm beginning my lit. studies Honours thesis and am writing on dark academia. I just wanted to ask if you would be happy for me to write about IWWV? I know authors usually just 'get' written about, but I know that some would rather not be featured in others' research, particularly if academics themselves. Thanks again and thanks for your time. :)

Hi! I’m glad to hear that my work has been a positive force in your life.

As for people writing about Villains, I don’t have particularly strong feelings about it one way or the other. If it’s published, it’s fair game for anyone who wants to talk about it and my personal preferences don’t matter because that’s not how publishing works and that’s not how it should work. But I also feel I should warn you that I get a lot of questions like this. There are four in my inbox right now from different students, and that’s just from this month, and that’s about a book that was kind of a blip on the radar in the greater scheme of things. This genre is having an odd little renaissance right now (which might have something to with the hubbub around The Ninth House; whenever a list-hitter makes a foray into a genre it stirs up fresh interest as people go looking for comp titles) and I think graduate schools are going to be reading a lot of senior thesis writing samples about it in the next few years. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but literary trends are notoriously short-lived and usually not the best basket to put your academic eggs in. Basically, you don’t need my blessing or permission, but I do think there are probably better things to write a thesis on. This is not an effort to be self-deprecating, but rather a gentle warning that you may be jumping on a bandwagon without realizing it.

What I would suggest instead of worrying about what the author thinks is to question why you want to write about this topic, what the academic value of that project would be, and whether Villains is vital to making that argument. (Unfortunately, it’s not enough in academia to write about stuff just because we like it.) Secondly, I’d suggest you do some reading to learn what kind of critical commentary is already out there or in the pipeline, just to make sure you’re not about to waste time doing something that’s already been done. Finally, I might suggest you redirect this question to an academic advisor who knows you and your long-term goals and may be able to guide you as you refine your thesis topic. 

I realize this probably isn’t the answer you wanted, but I hope it turns out to be helpful in the long run.

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Hello M! You don't have to answer this but do you have any advice for doing academic research, particularly when starting a project? And if you're comfortable sharing, what is your own research process?

There are some past answers here (this one might be of particular interest), but what I’d suggest at the beginning of the project is to not commit yourself to any thesis or even topic until you’ve done some background reading. This is to avoid wasting time writing a paper/article/thesis only to find out that a hundred other people have already worn out the idea. So once you have a vague notion of what you want to work on you’re going to want to get your hands on all the books and articles you can in that area. What I’d recommend is starting with the most recent stuff, for two reasons: (1) that’s where the freshest work is happening and it’s important to know what the state of the field is and (2) you can mine those bibliographies for other source material. For instance, if you read five monographs published in 2019 that are all citing a book published in 2009, that’s probably something you need to read. Lather, rinse, and repeat. This top-down process gives you a good sense of the critical chronology and it will also help you figure out what’s been said already and what hasn’t. It’s not just about the argument being made, though; it’s also about the methodologies employed, so pay attention not only to the conclusions other scholars arrive at but pay attention to how they get there.

Once you have a good sense of what’s already been done and how, that’s when you can start to think more about what you want to do and what your approach will be. This is something you’ll get better at with practice and as you develop your academic identity. For an exercise, try making a Venn diagram of all the different academic categories you belong to. For instance, for me this might include things like “performance studies,” “theatre history,” “medical humanities,” etc. (Pro-tip: sometimes the more niche your categories, the better; if you find something small that fascinates you that nobody else seems to be talking about, you’ve struck gold.) Figuring out what you’re doing that’s different and what it’s going to contribute to the critical conversation is calling “making an intervention,” and once you get to the graduate level (if that’s your plan) advisors are going to ask you constantly what your intervention is. This brings me to my final suggestion, which is to get feedback at every step of the process. Bounce your ideas off mentors and colleagues and friends outside the academy. Swap outlines and rough drafts and get reading recommendations. Spend time with writing groups and mentors. Engaging with your academic community is not only going to give you a vitally important support system, but it’s going to make your work stronger. 

As for my own research process, this is pretty much what it looks like. I start with a big idea and through the process of reading and researching I whittle it down to something smaller that’s grabbed my attention and nobody else’s yet. This is a gross oversimplification, obviously, and research often takes you down rabbit trails or rabbit holes and all your best-laid plans go out the window, but those impulses aren’t necessarily bad. Sometimes that’s how you stumble on the best ideas. The most important thing is to remember that all of this stuff takes time. There’s a reason it takes years to get your doctorate. But that’s the macro scale; for an individual research project, start with what interests you. What intrigues you? What do you want to talk about? Follow your own curiosity, because there’s nothing worse than committing yourself to something you don’t care about. 

This is getting away from me so I’ll finish it there, and just add that every researcher’s process is different just like every writer’s process is different. It’ll time and trial and error, but eventually you’ll figure out what works for you. 

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Nabokov’s infamous unreliable narrator

(Assignment: write a single source Literary Analysis about any book discussing anything you want)

           Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov regarded as a classic in modern literature is a prime example of an unreliable narrator. When readers are given a first-person narrative, their insight on a story is much more limited than they think. Most times readers believe just because a story is fed to them a certain way then it holds to be absolute and true. It is seldom thought about from any other character’s perspective and whether the narrator could just be delusional or a liar.

           Nabakov begins the story with Humbert telling of his first tragic love, Annabel in the summer of 1911. They fall madly and agonizingly in love, but she later dies of typhus. He uses this wound as a “reason” for his affliction and even goes so far to say that had this not happened there would have never been “Lolita”. “In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, a certain initial girl-child.” (Nabokov 1) This is the beginning to over 200 pages of attempts to rationalize his actions.

After his tragic origin story, one might feel pity for him enough to excuse even a portion of his crimes, but soon he himself tells of his own abusive ways. Despite his attraction to young girls, he married even before marrying Dolores’ mother. He married a woman named Valeria in 1935 and he admits that he only did so because she gave a good impression of a little girl. He soon realizes he has no attraction to her and therefore cannot love her. She falls in love with another man some years later and despite his lack of attachment to her he is angry. He is so angry he tells the reader of his thoughts “I now wondered if Valechka…was really worth shooting, or strangling, or downing. She had very vulnerable legs, and I decided to limit myself to hurting her very horribly as soon as we were alone.” (Nabokov 29) Even after learning of his abusive thoughts and intentions, he still does not fully grasp how his actions destroy Dolores and because of this, neither does the reader. It could even be mistaken that he truly cares for her, maybe even loves her. If that were true wouldn’t he know her? Wouldn’t he truly see her for the child she is? These questions are left in the dust as his lusty gaze and beautiful writing ability have done a wonderful job of painting a compliant doll version of the girl he has kidnapped. The fact of this also means that the readers never get to truly know Dolores either, which makes it much harder for anyone to sympathize with her. It’s not narrated through her eyes and because of this the version of events we get a much less shocking and at some point, the reader could even find themselves rooting for the narrator.

Near the end mostly, I’m sure is where audiences will find themselves rooting for Humbert to kill another man who had taken advantage of Dolores. Of course, they would hope for some justice to happen, but is it not unsatisfying to know that the one who truly ruined her childhood is the one that gets to live? Is it not disappointing that Humbert goes to prison for killing Quilty and not for his crimes against Dolores? Perhaps the most telling of his unreliability and how well he succeeded in justifying and rationalizing his crimes is that he does not realize the devastation he brought to her life until after the fact. “I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur for background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord.” (Nabokov 280) It took him years to understand that she should not have been subjected to his heinous actions, she should have been enjoying her childhood. Even stated by himself, his narration has been so effective that this too has gone over many readers’ heads.

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(Assignment: write a Shakespearean Sonnet about who you are and how you feel.  I wrote this assignment for my brother’s high school AP english class so he could get an A and bring his grade up.)

           Certainly, I am a person, I think so.

  I have my own thoughts, beliefs, and dreams,

but even with these hopes of my own, there’s nowhere to go.

From a glance you’d never see, things aren’t as it seems.

      Who am I really? I might never know.

    My life is immutable, a carousel of dull.

      I often wonder if it must always be so.

Days go by like minutes, all the same and null.

     I may never have the power of choice.

  Who will I be? I have no answer or control.

   All I have and may ever have is my voice.

  To be self-aware is a pain none can console

      I am trapped forever in a dormant state.

     Stuck in a revolving door, doomed to wait.

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(Assignment: Write about WHY college is important. Disclaimer: I don’t actually believe college is this necessary and I understand the hesitance towards college because it is so expensive and a job is not guaranteed, what I’ve written was what ensured me to get an A and does not necessarily reflect my personal beliefs.) 

A college education being regarded as “essential” has quickly become somewhat of a criticized idea by many, it is an old-fashioned way of thinking, but it holds true. College is a ground zero for the academically and financially successful. These days to get almost any job that someone can live comfortably from requires some college education or a degree. A degree will not only allow the opportunity to benefit the recipient’s country but household and community as well.

Even if work in the field of one’s degree is limited, in many cases the pay at any job will be higher than the average employee if the employee has a degree. A degree holder will get higher pay because a college degree shows ambition, drive and perseverance and the capacity to learn. If an employer that has two qualified applicants for one job, they are most likely going to choose the applicant with a college degree. If nothing else, a degree looks excellent on a resume. Experience and skills can only do so much compared to hundreds of similar applications. With so many people searching for work it simply isn’t enough to be qualified for a job, you must be educated and in some cases over qualified. In comparison to other applicants a degree can truly be what sets potential employees apart and gives others a better chance at being selected and hired.

In many other countries, education is not so easily obtained. The lack of college education in a community is part of the cause of high crime rates. Without a diploma or degree, the harder it becomes to find a job which leads many to lives of crime. Having a low employment rate and a high crime rate destroys an economy in ways that are not so easily fixed. These situations alone can shine a light on why education, specifically a college education is important. It is not only crucial on an individual basis but on a communal basis. The more graduates in a country or community the easier it would be to find and create jobs raising the unemployment rate. As a result, the crime rate will begin to decline as there will no longer be a need for theft and the selling of illegal substances. It will maintain a community in a safe and stable environment where it will be able to push forward towards more advancements. Of course, that is only if the rate of college graduates increases substantially.

Other than the benefits it would bring to a community it would also bring countless benefits to a familial unit. The benefits can be seen especially in families of first graduates, the first people in the family to graduate college. Once someone completes college and earns a degree they can get a more stable sometimes high paying job to bring more income to their family’s household. This would bring many families out of poverty and the children or the younger siblings of the graduate would not have to consistently go without essential things such as clothes, shoes, school supplies, or even food. Being the first graduate in a family could also affect someone else in the household and encourage them to get their degree which would give another possibility of getting a higher paying job and bringing even more income into the home. It could even have a domino effect and encourage others such as neighbors, friends and extended family members. Education could change their entire environment, lifestyle and create a cultural change.

Many lower-class students miss out on the opportunity to go to college and usually must take the first job they can get out of high school to support themselves or their family. Truly believing that this is the only way to survive in the world. It is possible to live off such a job in the short run, but it will always be paycheck to paycheck and will rarely leave money left over to save. If that job is suddenly gone it could be catastrophic for not only the employee but all in the household. This will continue the cycle of poverty for generations. Living in a community where there are so few college graduates makes things even more difficult to improve a situation such as this. Often since these communities are low income the state and the city disregard the education of these people, underfunding the schools, cutting programs that will help students academically, never buying new text books or computers. Not only is this discouraging to the students and making them believe college can only be a farfetched dream, but it is hurting families, communities and looking from the big picture, the United States.

Many industries in America have begun to die out as result of newer generations’ hesitance towards college. Just to name one is the real estate industry, it is now being said that choosing real estate as a career is a risky move these days and all due to college being so expensive and the limited number of jobs, millennials are unable to afford homes. The number of homeowners has plummeted in the last decade not only because of the housing crisis but because it’s not affordable for much of the new generation. Having no home or regular income, thousands turn to theft and illegal sources of income including drug dealing and sometimes lead to drug use.

For individuals a college degree is something that will truly help in the long run. The desired job, comfortable lifestyle and the knowledge that is deserved. However, the benefits of a college education can best be seen in large communities. The signs of a community that understands the need for college are low crime rates, low drug use, low unemployment rates, home owners, and high literacy rates. All evidence leads to the idea that a degree is something worth getting especially in this economy and social climate. It is important to recognize that college is not just a transition time for young adults, it is a foundation to build a life on.

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  (Assignment: compare and contrast two poems)

       Although all authors have a distinct voice and experiences that they apply to their writing, there are universal truths and messages in almost all writing, especially poetry. There are events in everyone’s lives that have us all experience the same feelings. Loss, regret, and the need to cling to memories. It is most apparent in two poems by very different authors. The first being “What the Living Do” by Marie Howe and the second “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke.

           Both poems are from unlike times but convey the same feelings. In “What the Living Do” published in 1997 Marie is speaking of her deceased brother and how each ordinary thing in her daily life brings memories of him. “My Papa’s Waltz” published in 1943 is a memory of a little boy dancing in the kitchen with his father and it is implied to be a memory that is often clung to. Clinging to a memory is almost literal for “My Papa’s Waltz” the little boy desperately holds to his father “then waltzed me off to bed, still clinging to your shirt.” Each of these works show the need to remember those that are no longer alive in efforts to heal from the loss. The feelings the reader may have while reading both poems are very similar in fondness for the memory, urgency to remember and a pang of sadness.

           The way these feelings and messages of memory and melancholy are conveyed are very different in each poem. In Marie Howe’s work she is not so obvious in the beginning, not until the last line do you realize “Johnny” earlier mentioned in the first stanza has actually passed away. The last line is what ties the ideas and feelings together “I am living, I remember you” reading that last line is where the reader begins to feel what Marie is trying to convey. Nearly everyone has dealt with loss. Marie Howe taps into the feelings of grieving a loved one to share an emotional message to readers. Roethke’s message in “My Papa’s Waltz” is a bit earlier realized as the poem takes place in the memory of his father rather than displayed subtly. His work is much more desperate with lines such as “I hung on like death” (line 3) and “You beat time on my head” (line 13). The sense of urgency and the mentions of time and death is what immediately tells the reader it is a memory and the father has passed.

           Both authors have different experiences living in different decades as well as having their own unique style. Despite differences they managed to write works with the same underlying feelings and messages. This is due to the universal human feelings they’ve experienced after losing loved ones; something almost all experience. Their words are different in many ways but convey the same relatable emotions to the reader. The reader of both of these poems may feel melancholy, grief, and longing.

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