Friday, April 20, 2018

Tweet from the Faculty of Education, at the University of Lethbridge.

I like the quote obviously, but the thrust of the paper is that students need to understand why, after years of academic success, they suddenly discover they can't write when they sit down to write their thesis. Understanding that a thesis is different than anything they've done so far, that they essentially have to unlearn all the strategies that have helped them so much up to now, is a prerequisite of success.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Struggling with a Thesis or Dissertation?


Cover of Anxiety Magazine an art project by @crayonelyse to encourage discussion of mental health issues. Used with permission. ©2017 @crayonelyse

Doing graduate work? Need outside moral support? A writing coach can help.


Stuck while writing a thesis or dissertation? You are not alone: over 50% of those who start a thesis or dissertation never finish. That's an appalling statistic because it either means graduate program selection committees are universally terrible at choosing candidates for thesis-route programs, or that there is some structural problem with supervision.

What is most revealing is that 85% of those who fail to complete their thesis or dissertation drop out after successfully completing all their coursework and research. It is understandable if after a year in the program some students decide it's not for them and drop out. But that represents only about 15% of those who don't make it. The rest are people who stall out writing while writing their thesis— often after seven or eight years in the program. The financial, career, and emotional costs of such a high investment of time and energy for no return is clearly unacceptable, yet these statistics have not changed in over 50 years.

It doesn't have to be this way. Since the dropout rate is highest while students are registered in the thesis or dissertation, I would argue that the real reason people fail is that no one has taught them that undertaking a sustained piece of writing, such as a thesis or dissertation, requires different skills and strategies then other forms of writing; that they must unlearn the strategies that got them through their undergraduate papers and learn a whole new approach.

A key aspect of that new approach is understanding that angst is an inevitable part of writing. Almost everyone is anxious about their research-writing, as aptly illustrated by the cover of Anxiety Magazine. Since the problems that afflict 50% of thesis-route graduate students is the actual process of writing the thesis, a writing coach may be the best way to address these issues.

If one is struggling with writing basics—sentence or paragraph structure, transition sentences, citation format, and so on—then most campuses have a writing center that can help even graduate students improve their writing skills. The service is free. If one has generalized anxiety or test anxiety or thesis anxiety, most campuses similarly have professional counselors to help talk one through emotional issues.

If, however, your problems relate specifically to your thesis with things like writers' block, your ideas not 'jelling', lack of motivation, angst over your research writing not being good enough, and so on, then a writing coach might be what you need. Some campuses offer thesis-writing seminars, workshops, and so on ... but many do not. A private writing coach charges fees, but the fees are likely less than the cost of a typical graduate course or even just the fees charged to continue your registration for yet another extension as you struggle alone to finish your thesis. A writing coach can get you through the writing portion of the thesis faster, with less pain [there is no such thing as 'painlessly' when it comes to thesis-writing] and with a greater likelihood of success.

Start with the FREE 32-page guide from EssentialEdits.ca to understanding the thesis-writing process and strategies to address the logistical and psychological barriers to completing a thesis. (See also the "thesis" button on the EssentialEdits.ca homepage for other useful resources for Graduate Students, such as the pamphlet on how to choose your thesis supervisor or the pamphlet on keeping key files safely backedup.)

For personal coaching on your thesis or dissertation, Dr. Runté and his staff are ready to help. $400-$500 buys ten hours of coaching. All coaching, tutoring, and editing is done within the ethical guidelines of the Editors Association of Canada.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

On Common Errors in Fiction

Andromeda Spaceways, the Australian SF magazine, has a helpful and amusing article by Douglas A. Van Belleon on the most common reasons they reject a story. Pretty accurate and comprehensive list of reasons your story might not be working (though I've added one additional suggestion in the comments section). Worth a look!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Writing the Literary Novel

Excellent advice in Suzanne Reisman's Ten Tips to Write a Novel That's Literary as F—", amusingly expressed. The article does include a certain, um, Joycian quality—which is to say,
LANGUAGE WARNING: NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK.
But I've had to correct one or more of these issues in every manuscript across my desk. Including my own.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Robert, Editing

My wife (seen here reflected in the mirror in the background) caught this candid shot of me editing. Clearly, I love my job.

Bahahahaha!

Also, I tend to lose track of time, and apparently hadn't noticed that the sun had gone down and I was now working in the dark.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Excellence for What?

Very pleased to have a chapter in the just released Routledge collection, Global Perspectives on Teaching Excellence entitled "Excellence for what? Policy Development and the Discourse of the Purpose of Higher Education." The collection is basically a reaction to recent legislation in the UK that attempted to measure and mandate teaching excellence in higher education. My wife and I wrote a critique using my discourse analysis model of the purpose of higher education applied to the new legislation to suggest that the government's definition of 'excellence' might be somewhat problematic from the perspective of students and learning.

Of course, discourse analysis is a large part of academic editing, so it's nice to be able to keep my hand in original research/publication to be part of this excellent collection.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Some Thoughts on Writing a Novel (Video by Joe Mahoney)

Here's Joe Mahoney talking about writing his novel, A Time and A Place.

It's a pretty good summary of the process and principles I think most successful writers come to live by. (He ended up with a pretty great book.)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

"The Luck of Charles Harcourt" and "Sermon on the Mount"

My 1989 short story, "The Luck of Charles Harcourt", has been reprinted in the current issue (#5) of Polar Borealis (above left). The timing pleases me greatly because the story originally appeared in the very first issue of On Spec magazine (pictured above right), and my second story in On Spec, "Sermon on the Mount" came out just last month (January, 2018) in #106 Vol. 28 (3), pp. 88-105 (pictured below). So there is an opportunity to compare first and last, as it were.

Note that although Polar Borealis is a paying market showcasing new and established Canadian authors, it is available free to subscribers: Download Now

I must confess that reading my story from nearly thirty years ago makes me wince a little bit at the now obvious sexism, and it seems strange to read about people lining up at the bank tellers instead of using the ATM, and that there were no cell phones yet. I was tempted to update the story, but editor Graeme Cameron argued that "every story is a time capsule, capturing the context of the time it was written. Which is why I don't believe fiction should ever be reprinted with alterations designed to appease changing tastes and views. Let the past speak with the authentic voice of the past, I say."

It's an intriguing issue. Lorina and I left Hargreaves' stories as they were when Five Rivers reprinted North by 2000+ because they were authentically awesome, though the future he predicted for 2000 was not quite the one we got. In my preface, I told readers to just read the stories as if they took place in a parallel universe where American and Canada had merged (to take just one example of what hadn't gone the ways Hargreaves had predicted in the 1960s) but some readers did indeed complain about the anachronisms. Though it should be noted how many things Hargreaves got right, and therefore went unnoticed.... On the other hand, we updated Leslie Gadallah's books to take out the long explanations of the Internet, because we actually had the Internet by the time we reprinted her books. Perhaps the most interesting issue I've had as an editor with anachronisms is an author who wanted to disguise that the story was based on their own life by setting it in modern day, but then the action didn't make any sense, because much of the storyline depended on the confusion arising from characters not being able to reach each other, which just can't happen that way in an era of smartphones.

The story in the current issue of On Spec is "Sermon on the Mount", a time travel story. I always thought the time travel genre was kind of mined out, but then the idea for this one popped into my head, so there you go. Though now Krista Ball mentions it, I should probably have had a few more female characters in there....But, you know, reflects the times...

Anyway, pleased with to have the two stories out at once. Waiting to see if any of the five currently under consideration get picked up.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Impostor syndrome

Many of our clients are students writing theses or dissertations, and many struggle with impostor syndrome, the sense that they have finally reached the limits of their knowledge/skills and are about to be exposed as the impostor they are, because they are struggling writing their thesis or dissertation. What they don't realize, of course, is that everyone struggles with any sustained piece of writing—if one isn't struggling, it's probably not going to be their best work.

High achievers are susceptible to Impostor Syndrome, says psychotherapist and author Dr. Aaron Balick, because they push the bounds of their professional areas, often working at the edge of their area of expertise. "It can be said that the more successful you are, the more likely you are to experience this, since your experience at the top of your field is, by its very nature, unusual."

—from an article by Bonnie Burton.

Grad students writing a thesis or dissertation are by definition out at the edges of their disciplines, creating new knowledge. A thesis or dissertation is usually the largest, highest-stakes project they've undertaken yet, so struggle and angst are pretty much inevitable. That one bumps up against staring at the blank page or having to rethink one's approach multiple times or not having the pieces all fall into place instantly is all perfectly normal because the processes of creation and writing are both complex and difficult—for everyone.

Which is where, of course, writing coaches come in. A little moral support can go a long way, starting by reassuring the writer that the angst they are feeling is normal and healthy. If writing were easy, everyone would do it. To do it well, is to put in effort, and effort requires struggle.

To help grad students with their struggles, Essential Edits has commissioned a 32 page guide by Dr. Runté on Thesis Writing Strategies which addresses the issues of dealing with the angst of writing (and more specifically, of rewriting) a thesis or dissertation, available FREE from the EssentialEdits.ca website.