As I am working through the writing part of my dissertation (as opposed to the reading, note taking and game playing), I am finding it hard to stay on task. I have always been a last minute drama-panic type of writer, and up until this point, it has always worked for me (managed to get my MA done that way…). As I have been gearing up for writing, I realize that the “last minute” style might not work on a document of this magnitude (in depth and length), and have been trying (that is the operative word in all of this) to get a little bit done every day. However, I find myself writing a lot less that I would normally, and seem to be spending an unbalanced amount of time editing and tweaking the little bits I have done instead of working on the bulk of the writing.
Every time I sit down to write, I find myself facing a wall of mental block. Not that I don’t know what I am supposed to be writing, what I have been planning on writing, but every sentence I type, I tend to cut and paste into a “save for later” document, which always ends up getting deleted within a few hours… I know that I have something to say – something worth saying… but when I have in-depth conversations with people about my work, and they start asking me questions that I cannot answer, instead of being inspired to break through, I get discouraged and stare at my document in-progress. I have been actively working on the same research question (in various degrees of depth and scope) since 2004 – I love my research and feel that if it comes together, can be a valuable contribution (something I’m told grad students tell themselves to get them through the painful writing process), but I am hitting a wall where I am afraid what I am writing is bad. That it’s all be said before, or worse, it hasn’t been said yet, but nobody cares. That I am using the wrong references, quoting the wrong people and getting the little things wrong. I know this is all part of the stress and anxiety of writing your dissertation, but I find it debilitating, and quite honestly, I have not left myself that much time to get lost in the mud.
I have spent the last 2 weeks working on something that should have been done in one (based on my perception of my own abilities). Some days I think it’s fabulous and polished, other days I just want to hit delete on the whole thing. Why is knowing that this is ‘normal’ and ‘part of the process’ not helping me break through and just ‘get’er done’!?
On that note, I will alt-tab back to my open document that has been sitting there patiently, waiting for more pages to join them, and get back to writing either a masterpiece or an intellectual train wreck.
I am working on the ‘lit review’ (and definitions) section of my dissertation this week, and it has been an interesting challenge so far. I come from Sociology, where a proper literature review – reviewing what has been written on a particular topic – usually framing the field or the range of perspectives before adding your own – is a formal process with a relatively homogeneous structure across the field.
In this case, for my dissertation, it is a bit different. I am in a field that does not require a lit review (or methods section for that matter!), but I cannot justify writing on a topic that has such an extensive background. It is also important for my readers to know where I am coming from, what I know about what I am writing about, and acknowledging the history of a topic. As it stands, seeing as I am not ‘required’ to include a literature review as defined by a social science structure, I have made a few decisions about its purpose within the context of my dissertation in my department. To be fair, the inspiration came from this book on dissertation writing. While some may have accused me of procrastination while reading it, it has helped me see the structure of my dissertation – and I don’t just mean chapter breakdown or anything – it really busts out what each bit of your diss should be accomplishing. In talking about the literature review, Dunleavy talks about good and bad lit reviews – the cumbersome review that includes everything under the sun ever written, and the good (read: functional) review that develops the literature in a ‘need to know’ structure for the reader. Since I am using a lot of literature from outside Film Studies, it is important for my committee to understand the ideas that frame my work (so that I can prove that the work I am doing is innovative in respect to what has been done already).
So, I spent the last four days hammering out my lit review, more unconsciously than I realized. I decided to roll my “definitions” bit into the same chapter, so the reader will know within which context I am talking about certain terms. So, I categorized my literature by ‘term’ in order of relevance to the content of my work. Starting with Identity (obviously), I realized I wrote a pretty classic lit review almost by second nature (I have written a few on identity in my academic career….). When it was all done, I broke it up into sections of what it is I want the reader to know about identity and its construction process – within a historical context. Instead of writing a full overview of the lit and situating my work within it, I am using it more as a definitional construct. What is it about identity construction that my reader needs to know so that they understand what it is I am proposing when I am talking about ‘hybrid identity’ construction in video game play? What are the key pieces of work that will demonstrate how thinking about identity construction has changed over the decades (centuries). Once decided, I was able to re-edit the literature to act more as a demonstration than a framing…. make sense?
While it might sound the same, the process (and outcome) is a bit different than what I am used to. It is hard to go against my trained nature of what a research paper (diss) looks like, what parts are necessary, and what are complementary – it is nice to finally be at this stage of my writing – that’s for sure!
I recently purchased a PS3 to add to our console collection (currently, the family consists of an Xbox360, Wii, Ps2 & N64 … really regret giving our SNES up for adoption so many moons ago!). Of course, I could not simply purchase a console with nothing to play on it (it would get lonely that way of course!). It came bundled with God of War III (which made me happy – as I quite like that game), I also bought Little Big Planet, Ratchet & Clank and Uncharted. GoW is exactly what I expected – that’s good; and LBP is the very happy surprise. I know the game has had a lot of fan fare since its release, but I really am astounded at the creativity put into it (and it has an awesome soundtrack!). We have not ventured into the level building bits yet, nor played any player-made content yet, but for now, I am really impressed by the game (and will make LBP2 a worthy purchase I am sure). My daughters are also in love with the game, saying it really feels like they put a lot of thought into it… The loser in the bunch is Uncharted. It says it won game of the year (in some context, I cannot remember at the moment, and am too lazy to go check the box…) but it is kind of clunky, and the controls are unnatural (some bad button-mapping choices on the part of the designers…. not enough play-testing perhaps?). It is not so bad that I won’t consider Uncharted 2 at some point, but the beauty of buying a console this late after release, is that there are tons of games we have never heard of (or bothered to look into) since we didn’t own the console – and so many of them at great prices (yay for classics & clearance bins!). That being said – any suggestions for games is always more than welcome!
The closing conference cocktail was put on by TAG at Concordia University. An intimate 5à7 (actually, was a 4à8!) held in the open lobby space of the 11th floor of the EV building where Hexagram and Tag are housed. With two walls consisting of floor to ceiling windows opening on to a large terrace, the views from the room were beautiful, giving the international guests a magnificent visual to take home with them (we even had our first snowfall that evening!). The food, consisting of all local Quebec fare (cheeses, pate’s and delicatessen delights) was paired with carefully selected local artisanal beers, and delectable wines (both white and red), the spread was a delightful temptation – even for those who had already eaten.
With great candle light, and ambient (video game soundtracks) music, the atmosphere lent itself to getting to know each other, squeezing in a last few chats with people you were sad to see leaving, a nd playing a game or two that were conveniently set up in the space.
Another shout out to those who helped put this all together, the hosts and the bar staff were amazing; warm and friendly, willing to answer any question they could. Thanks to Bart Simon & TAG for hosting, Alanna & Saleem for coordinating all the crazy details, to Shanly Dixon for selecting such great food and to everyone who made this a great event – the bar has been set high for future conference events – I can promise you all that! Here are a few more shots taken during the early part of the evening (much more impressive once the sun went down of course!).
Personally, this was a great ending to a pretty great conference. While the food and drink will be missed, I got to talk with a lot of great people, reconnect with some old colleagues and walk away from the whole thing inspired to write my dissertation.