Queen on a boat


We spent yesterday watching the pageant from the Butler’s Wharf building near Tower Bridge. The view was amazing!

Next week I’m back blogging about Google Scholar. Is it all that?

Best wishes,


Posted in The Writing Laboratory | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Creative Writing: Character Development

The practice of the creative writer can often be a solitary thing. It is very important to have this peaceful thinking space; however, until you have tried communicating your ideas to someone else, how can you be sure they will be understood?  I asked some author friends what tips they had for fleshing out convincing fictional people. These are a few of the methods they suggested:

 1 Gossip

Gossiping is a very important psychological process which allows us to analyse the ethical implications of human behaviour while at the same time building feelings of solidarity between our gossiping co-conspirators and ourselves. You could try gossiping about your character as if they are real (it’s probably best that whoever you’re talking to be made aware your character is fictional; otherwise they could waste several hours trying to find their profile on Facebook), revealing all of the juicy salacious details of their life and behaviour. Nothing makes a person more complete and interesting than their flaws, ethical complexities and that irritating way they swallow loudly when they drink tea. Note: if your character eventually sues you for slander then you may have gone a little too far.

 2 Personal Artefacts and Property

Personally speaking, I like to keep all my old shop receipts in my handbag as I feel it creates a lovely soft bedding for my mobile phone, the lip gloss that has fluff in it and the Biro which is currently spewing its ink all over the post-it note full of highly important information. The contents of a person’s bag or glove compartment can provide a piercing insight into their personality, daily life and priorities. For instance,  the presence of a nicotine patch indicates an ongoing battle against smoking. This in turn may suggest that they could have a reason to give up smoking, such as a new baby or a worsening health condition, or it could simply imply that this character might have rather a short temper at present in stark contrast to their normal bubbly self. By writing a list of contents, and then passing the list to someone else to read, you will be able to get a picture of how someone else  may interpret the meaning of the objects and whence the personality of your character.

3 Be them

We are all prone to talking to ourselves of occasion, and so your character would probably do the same. Acting out the character yourself, mumbling thoughts out loud, may help you to gain insight into their demeanour and voice as well as their inconsequential rambling thought processes. Again, do warn any flatmates before hand, especially if your character happens to have a deep demonic growl.

What do you do to get to know your characters? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Take care, Poppy

p.s.  –The Writing Laboratory offers one-to-one Skype sessions with writing professionals to discuss all facets of the writing process. Please visit www.thewritinglaboratory.co.uk for more information.

Posted in Editing & Proofreading, The Writing Laboratory, Thoughts on writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Nomadic Academic – What constitutes your perfect working space?

Organising a productive working space is often complicated by the nomadic lifestyle of the student. Traveling between shared halls and silent libraries before heading back home for several weeks of summer holiday, how can you be sure that you have the space you need to study well at all times? There are two criteria that are essential. Firstly, a comfortable place that you are happy to stay in for an extended period of time. Secondly, the tools and materials required for the job.

 1. The University Accommodation

If you are the kind of person who likes to settle in for intense 12 hour periods of writing (sometimes followed by intense 12 hour periods of daytime sleeping…) then you may be perfectly suited to working from your college flat, as books can be kept open and ready next to coffee pots and bowls of soggy, but nutritious, cereal. However we all need a break from time to time, so it may be a good idea to set aside a different place in your flat, at a distance from your computer, that you can move to for a nice cup of tea, a gaze out of the window and perhaps some gentle whittling if you are that way inclined.

 2. The Library

As human beings, we unfortunately have no tangible way of marking our territory (which wouldn’t then result in ostracism from both our academic institution and peer group). We are also terribly superstitious creatures who can feel quite put out when, on entering the library or IT suite, we find some little upstart using ‘our’ computer. In this situation it is worth remembering that a) all your work is saved to your USB stick and not the computer in the corner that has the best natural light; b) who needs vitamin D anyway; and c) glaring at the person until they go away only costs both you and them valuable study time. The wonderful thing about library working is that you are largely protected from the distraction of people you know and objects you love. Plug in some earphones (at a modest volume), take advantage of books you wouldn’t have access to at home and please save every last thing to that trusty little USB stick for she is truly your best friend.

 3. The Home Town

So many books, so little space in the holdall amongst the collected debris of an academic year. So if you intend to write during your summer break then a useful strategy can be to take home hard copies of primary texts (checking library fees and availability) while photocopying required secondary texts (within copyright laws) organised inside a hard folder. If you are a good home-worker, then you could create a dedicated space from the get go. Or, if library working better suits you, then an enjoyable alternative can be a coffee shop, providing you with a bustling but anonymous venue and pints of milky stimulants.

What arrangement works best for you? And what stationary/materials/inanimate objects must you absolutely have around you in order to turn thoughts into writing?

Take care, Poppy


Posted in Editing & Proofreading, How to write original academic work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

4 Ways to Outwit Academic Writer’s Block

Rachel Gardner has posted a much circulated blog on how fiction writers can jar themselves out of writer’s block. You can find it here. Unfortunately, most of her ideas are not applicable to academic writing, so I thought I’d offer some advice on how to rediscover your academic writing flow.

1. Read what you wrote yesterday. Gardner advises this and I agree. Often when I’m writing about theory, I think I’ve succinctly captured the gist of a complex idea. However, when I go back the next day, I find that I haven’t expressed the idea at all. What, I find are sentences that are stupidly obvious, s

uch as: ‘the other is the Other’; or sentences that make no sense because they are too theoretically dense: ‘Chalier ties the weakening of ontology to the fact of woman’s life and finds in this link the ethical state of being for-the-other.’

When I go back and reread what I’ve written, I become aware of what I don’t fully understand. I also become inspired to write until I do understand!

2. Accept that you may have come to a natural section or chapter conclusion and switch to a new section. I think many us, particularly when we’re new to academic writing, beat our ideas to a pulp. Don’t. If you can’t think of anything else to say right now, move on.

3. Take a break every 45 minutes. Often academic writers do not have the luxury of going to Starbucks, out for a walk or out shopping. We fit our writing time around our many other responsibilities, teaching, researching, families, jobs, etc. This causes enormous pressure to perform to build up during our scheduled writing time. Taking a short break every 45 minutes to go to the loo, make a cup of tea or do something mundane like take out the rubbish gives our minds just enough time to relax from that pressure.

4. Go back to your sources. When I feel I’ve tapped the well dry, I will often go back to the original books, look up new secondary sources or reread my own notes. This grounds me in the originality of my thought by exposing me to the issues that other scholars are talking about.

Hope you found this helpful.

Happy writing,



ps. the awesome cartoon in this post is from Poorly Drawn Lines: http://poorlydrawnlines.com/

Posted in Editing & Proofreading, How to write original academic work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Flier’ vs. ‘Flyer’

As I went to save our new fliers today, I wondered about the different spellings of this word. Is it flier? Or is it flyer? My personal preference is to use ‘flier’ for a leaflet and ‘flyer’ for one who flies. It seems, though, that there is no solid rules for this.

This is what the grammarist (http://grammarist.com/spelling/flier-flyer/) has to say:


Flier vs. flyer

Outside the U.S., there is no difference between flyer and flier. They are used interchangeably, though flyer is about twice as common as flierAmerican writers tend to use flyer for a small handbill and flier for one who flies. This is only a preference, however, and exceptions abound.

An earlier version of this post said simply that flier is the American spelling for all senses of the word while flyer is preferred everywhere else. Since posting the original, we’ve noticed that American publications display a definite pattern of distinguishing between the two spellings. But the two are so commonly mixed up that we can safely say neither is correct or incorrect for any sense of the word.

Outside the U.S., the issue is equally confounding. TheGuardian style book, for example, says “flyer, not flier,” while the Daily Telegraph style book says “flier, not flyer” (though below we include a Telegraph example that goes against this). Obviously there is no agreement on the issue, and the flier–flyer distinction apparently comes down to preference no matter where you are.


And these, good readers, are the fliers going up at UK universities over the next few weeks:

University flyer b&w 2012

University flyer colour 2012


Elisha – for http://www.thewritinglaboratory.co.uk

Posted in The Writing Laboratory | Tagged | Leave a comment

How to Be Original, Part III: ‘What keeps you from your academic writing? Fear.’

I’ve been wondering lately about what stops us from writing when writing is what we need to do. There are loads of tips on the internet for getting writing done. Do a quick search for ‘writing tips’ on twitter, and you will find them. Most of them suggest at least the following:

1. Write.

2. Write about what you know.

3. Commit. Write at the same time in the same place every day.

4. Don’t edit while you write.

5. Don’t think about marketing your text until you’re finished.*

These are generally good tips, but they mainly address procrastination. And I’m not so sure the refusal to write is all down to procrastination. I think, particularly if you’re writing an academic text, there is another reason why you’re not writing: fear. Not just simple fear, but complex fear.

There is:

1. Cold, hard fear of failure. The ‘publish or perish’ mentality is built into academia early on and it affects everyone – even you undergraduates.

2. Fear of telling the truth. As you get into your research, you will become an expert amongst a very small group of experts. You will inevitably contradict them, upset them and have to defend yourself. This is no easy task as most of them have been at this game longer than you have.

3. Fear of finishing. This is particularly the case for Ph.D. students. In the last 4 months of writing your thesis/dissertation, you will come to know a new type of anxiety. You will wonder what will happen to you once you no longer have to get up and write your thesis any longer. You will wonder about your future. You will question your identity – who are you if you’re not a Ph.D. student?

So what can you do? I suggest you start by addressing the fear of telling the truth. Disagree with people early and tell them so. Go to conferences and raise objections to papers. Publish about your disagreements. Learn to defend yourself. This will help you to realise that although academia is incredibly competitive, it is also cooperative: when you contradict someone, the both of you learn to think more deeply and thus more accurately about the subject at hand.

I think that once you can get a handle on telling the truth, you will feel stronger, braver and better able to navigate the fear of failure and the fear of post-Ph.D. life.

Hope this was helpful! Let me know what you think.

Remember, if you want high-quality editing and proofreading services or if you need someone to talk to about how to write your dissertation or thesis, check us out at: www.thewritinglaboratory.co.uk.



*I took these from Indie Author News, for the full list, go here: http://www.indieauthornews.com/2012/01/20-best-writing-tips-for-authors-to.html?spref=tw

Posted in How to write original academic work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What counts as ‘writing’?

I’ve been wondering about this question for some time. As writers and thinkers, what do you count as writing practice? Do you only count those words that might be published or read by someone else? Do you only count your academic writing, your fiction writing or your short essays on history as good practice?

Or, perhaps, is all writing a good practice for writers? Do the carefully worded emails teach you to invent metaphors you hadn’t thought of before? Do your funny texts make their way into your stories? Does your shopping list ring poetic?

I was reading through some notes I made about 8 years ago when I was in the process of moving to the U.K. They are incredibly well written and well observed. Because they are notes and include lists of international moving companies, pet carriers and the numbers of flat finders in London, they are also careless, thoughtless and as such rather vibrant.

So what counts?


Posted in Editing & Proofreading | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment