Live Blogging the Article Series: Casting off my Shackles

In the last few weeks, things capital-c-Changed.

So welcome to the jam-packed blog-of-all-things. It’s long.  Also, this is a pretty emotional and momentous post, so expect ALL THE CAPS.


I started seeing PhD students again (or at least talking to them over the phone), mostly people 3-6 months off finishing the thesis.

And firstly–you guys are awesome, and I am so lucky to be able to talk to you about your awesome projects. Secondly–to each of them, I found myself saying something like this:

It sounds to me like you’re nearly there. The main issues seem to be because you are too close to it, and you can’t see the wood for the trees.
We’ll talk through some of the strategies and get an outline of your argument, but the main thing you need is a critical distance break.

A critical distance break is 2 weeks of time away from the project. If the reason you can’t see straight is because you are exhausted, or stressed, or sick, then the break is also sick leave, a mental health fortnight.

In any case, those two weeks gives you enough time to step far enough back from the details  to see the whole picture. That enables you to align your project with your goals, to go back to being strategic.
To be able to see your work analytically, and move from the generative writing into the editorial stage of the writing process.

And it works. It TOTALLY works. 


My web project of doom, the one that was making me so stressed that I wasn’t sleeping, that I was having nightmares, that I was throwing up, that I was throwing up so regularly I took a test to check it wasn’t morning sickness… THE PROJECT IS COMPLETE. 

And  two weeks ago it was nearly complete, and suddenly I could take my own advice.

  • I went to No Lights, No Lycra, and I unrolled my yoga mat.
  • I started cooking again, and threw together some pizza from scratch for Tuesday dinner, and started exploring Mexican cuisine.
  • I went back to making up songs and singing them around the house, silly songs with rhymes that I make up on the fly, and maybe improvise a little boogie to go with it.

These are all signs of happy. I was happy again. 


The article that I submitted (and talked about in this post back in May),  came back in July as a revise and resubmit.  With the web project, the extension for the Slessor article, the write up of the Hyper-Anxiety paper, and the conference coming up in November, I decided a few weeks ago that it wasn’t feasible to rewrite before their October deadline.

Then I read Three strikes and a blog: What to do with papers that are continually rejected on the excellent LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, in which a senior academic talked about trying to get work published. Professor Hartley’s story is in 2 parts: about persevering with rewriting and resubmitting his well researched, valuable, articles; and about reworking them as blog posts.

I wrote a paper about how most of the participants in studies in social psychology journals were undergraduate students – mainly in their first-year and given credit for participating.  I submitted this to an appropriate journal where it was roundly rejected.  I then recast it as a blog – see: Experimental social psychology relies too heavily on samples of undergraduate psychology students where it received over 2,500 hits in the first few weeks of being posted.

It’s very tempting, these days, just to post copies of articles up on, where they actually get read. “Queen of the boys tonight”: Hedli Anderson and the ‘Auden Gang’ was an invited book chapter that sat on an editors desk for TWO YEARS, before they cut it because the the book suddenly needed to be 1/3 shorter than they planned… I finally got around to shoving up online, and every week a couple of people stumble across it, which is pretty good for an article about the wife of a moderately unfashionable poet of the 1930s.

Moreover, I think the Adorno article will work better as a couple of blog posts here. You’ll give me such good feedback, push me further forward, and be more fun. Look out for detail fetishes, higher ed commodification, and the culture industry, coming soon.


Finally, I looked at the Slessor article, and thought ‘I don’t need this right now’.

I mean, the article was kind of clearly doomed, when I look back through the series. I’ve been sick, I’ve been too busy, I fell out of love with Slessor as a poet. It became an article for the sake of an article, a metric, a publication output; a line on my CV and to add to some government ‘measurement‘ of scholarship; none of which is essential for my employment, my advancement, my next step.

So I wrote to the editor, explained that I wasn’t making the progress I hoped for, and probably couldn’t realistic produce the article this year and she wrote back:

Thanks for this update.  Based on your email, I’m assuming it won’t be realistic for you to complete the Slessor essay for inclusion in —.  I’ll tentatively schedule you for —, and will get in touch in the early spring to confirm your interest and availability.



And you know what’s the best thing?

I didn’t need it. I’m a success anyway. And I feel it.

I led a small team of developers to build a streamlined, and useful website in 6 short weeks; I’ve become an Adjunct Faculty Member (which is an honorary position rather than a casual one) at Trinity College Theological School (part of the University of Divinity); my chapter on the libretto of Bach’s St John Passion is coming out in February, as part of the first full commentary on the work ever published in English; and a chapter on T. S. Eliot’s ‘From Poe to Valèry’ should be coming out next year as part of a 2 volume Collected Prose. 

And making pizza dough, and being a nice person, and hanging out with my cat, and sitting with my partner under the stars on the first warm night of the year and drinking wine… my worth is also in that, in being me, in being loved. 

So, what does this teach me?

I don’t have to be perfect. 

I should make ‘big picture done lists’ more often. 

People like me even when I say ‘I’d love to help, but I can’t do that at the moment.’

Being vulnerable makes you whole. 


Succeeding in a Research Higher Degree

Doing a Research Higher Degree (like a PhD) is hard, but lots of people have succeeded and you can too. It’s easier if you understand how it works, this blog gives you the insider view.


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