A busy but fun November

December 1, 2014

National Novel Writing Month logo

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

November has been a very busy month for me. My studies are in full swing and I took part in a writing event in November called NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a time where writers do their best to write a novel. You have to write every day for a month so that you can reach your word count goal or, better still, you have a novel by the end of the month.

With university in full swing, it was definitely not easy to try and juggle NaNoWriMo and studies at the same time. Of course, my studies were my priority. I could only write once I completed homework and the revision that I wanted to complete for the day.

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Start Studying From Scratch With These Study Resources

October 21, 2013

308px-Ellen_Terry_as_Lady_Macbeth‘Screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail’ might be the most famous piece of advice given to someone with chilly feet in the face of an overwhelming task. While Lady Macbeth might not be everyone’s first choice for a motivational speaker or life coach her famous line is a great rallying cry for digging into our studies, even if you are not an English major.

It is a little daunting to start our new courses from scratch. The big questions on everybody’s mind right now in our VLE and social forums are how to begin the study process, how to locate answers to the questions in the study guides’ learning outcomes, how to find the balance between working with primary and secondary texts, and how to apply critical theory to primary material we read. Studying at degree level is not as easy as looking up answers. We need some special skills to read and analyze the material we are studying and to begin developing our responses. While none of those big questions has a simple answer, for me, it comes down to focus on study methods and resources. We have to start where we are and make the most of our unique perspective, experience, and the tools at our command. Read the rest of this entry »

Creative Writing – Creative Studying

October 15, 2013

Does study sometimes become boring? It is a long process from the beginning of the term until exams. It sometimes feels like running a marathon. In both preparation and running the actual race we come face to face with the intellectual boredom of repetitive activity. Sometimes the intensity of the activity and sense of accomplishment will balance the need to just keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how tired or distracted you feel. When I am feeling tired finding a refreshing way to effectively engage with so much material is very necessary.

To me an ‘effective’ studying means mastering targeted learning outcomes, using the material in flexible and articulate ways, and engaging in a way that helps me internalize content and remember it. After all, I must be at my command eight months from now. Those points can be stumpers individually or taken all together. A few weeks ago mustering my resources for a study session after a long day filled with other demands presented a challenge. I decided to apply creative writing techniques to study. My hope was to overcome the sense of exhaustion from a busy schedule and the tedium of habit in my day in and day out reading and research. Using creative writing exercises and techniques helped me remember details about authors and literary periods, work out arguments, and perform text analysis.

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Are You A Writer?

June 18, 2013

Pen and paperI am quoting Salman Rushdie from the back of my memory, so maybe it’s a paraphrase, but here is the wisdom: ‘A lot of people start writing books but authors finish them.’  For me, that is a really big statement. It begs the question why? Not ‘why do people start writing books,’ but why don’t they finish writing them? I think this is a very important question for students because it places a spotlight on the real issue of developing an idea, an argument, and communicating it through writing. It really does not matter if it is creative writing or not. The problem of developing and articulating an argument in a lengthy document means a lot of ideas fizzle anywhere after page one.

Why does an idea fizzle? In our screenwriting classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers we talk about this a lot.  Like any other effective facilitation or decision-making process the first step is to identify the problem. The problem behind  fizzling ideas is that the thesis is not sufficiently developed.  There is not enough material to develop into an argument, err, a feature film or novel length text.  There might not even be enough for a short story or digital short length script. Without fully exploring the thesis, or the story we want to tell, it is easy to end up with vignettes that stall in terms of story-telling, no matter how artfully they are articulated.

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Easy Reading is Hard Writing

December 16, 2011

It is time to start writing for the Marking Scheme*.  The Marking Scheme is a great way to assess how my work is progressing and what my exam experience will be like. Writing is a skill, like reading, or note taking. Writing under exam conditions, writing research papers, or creative writing are very different things,  just like reading critically and reading for pleasure require a different perspective. Learning to read and write in different ways is quite an education, if you will pardon the pun.  

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I learned to love exams

June 7, 2010

It might seem unusual to make my first post about exams.  Exams were a month ago; a whole new year is ahead. But I love the exam process in the External Programs. I enjoy exams perhaps more than any other aspect of the program. Exams are a way to engage with the texts and my learning process, to evaluate my strategies and gain insights vital to success in a self-directed program.

Maybe I should say I learned to love the exam process.  When I applied to the program three years ago I had no English studies experience and no meaningful basis to organize my study approach. I chose Renaissance Comedy as my first exam because it had the fewest texts and I thought it would be the easiest course in terms of time management.  The morning I sat for that exam was nerve-wracking, but I answered the required questions and earned a second class mark for my efforts.

In 2009 I enrolled for the Explorations 1 exam.  My mark in year two was twelve points higher than in year one. I worked differently, but how did I manage to achieve this improvement?  After each exam I analyze things like what questions I attempt, what texts and critical arguments I use, what I do well and what could I do better.  I take notice of time management in the exam room, the quality of my essay plans and if my work is produced under pressure or with purpose.  My goal is to discover how I can improve essay content and time management. Ultimately I will decide how my study process can be organized to achieve my goals.

Everyone has different goals when enrolling in the External program. I enrolled to learn about creative writing. Now I also want to earn a first class degree.  2010 is my third year writing exams and my first writing more than one exam paper. The two papers I attempted in May complete the Foundation courses. If I pass the papers I can go on to more in-depth work. This is a momentous academic year. Advancing in the program and earning a first class degree can only be accomplished through my performance in three precious exam hours each year. It’s vital to utilize them wisely. I treasure them and analyze them carefully.

There are some re-occurring exam issues that I want to master this year.  I realized for me English studies are about writing. This surprised me even with my reason for enrollment.  I am also surprised that producing better essay plans is still the technique needed to most improve my exam performance and study skills.  I should write essay plans all year and train myself to write in the way that will be most effective in exams. This one thing presents the greatest challenge and offers the greatest reward. I’ve learned to love exams so much because really understanding my performance makes achieving my goals possible. This year I am going to fully engage with the writing aspects of the exam process. I’ll keep you posted.


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