Creative Writing dissertations: a lesson in how to get your s**t together. 

In my third and final year at York St John University I undertook every students last stand: a dissertation. Because I was on a 50/50 split joint honors course of English Literature to Creative Writing I had the choice between a Critical dissertation or a Creative dissertation. So, yes partly because I new a critical dissertation would make me tear my hair our but mostly because, I do want to be a writer, plus it’s always been what I’ve been best at whilst at Uni; I chose to do a Creative Writing dissertation.
The idea for my dissertation came from an opening to a short story I wrote in my second year, where the main idea behind it was a narrative voice who was dead. From here, during summer 2015 I began research and development into the origins of the characters who would be the focus of my dissertation, which I called simply, ‘immortals’.

Due to the fact that my dissertation was going to be the opening chapters of a novel the research I did had to be that equivalent to research for a whole novel. So, the process began a whole 11 months-ish before deadline day. I decided that I was going to replace the more widely known origins of immortals or Vampires, which is slavic (think Dracula), with Irish Mythology which I was always fascinated by as a child and which is pretty much unused in literature.

I won’t go into too much detail about my researching process but what I will say, for people who are to complete a creative writing dissertation is this: you can never EVER do too much research. Know your subject inside out, whether it’s theories, history, social/political movements; know as much as you possibly can. The knowledge I gathered on Irish Mythology meant that I was confident enough to use terms,  ideas and history in a subtle way and also confident enough to choose what I wanted to adhere to and what I didn’t.

Another thing that I found PRICELESS in terms of helpfulness was: a journal.

I got this journal around November/December time of last year. Originally I had started my notes in a notebook that I had used the year previously but sharing my ideas for my dissertation with another module just didn’t feel…special, you know? So I bought this ‘decomposition book’. I liked the fact it was made of entirely recycled materials and I also appreciated the productive connotations that bees give so, in summary: this was the journal for me.
I put a lot of time into being creative with my journal and finding new ways of compiling ideas. I did art at A-level in college so I felt like I was getting back to sketchbook days.  All of this made the creative process of forming a path through the sometimes seemingly dark forest of imagination and story writing, all the easier. It is an excellent tool for anyone undertaking a creative dissertation, portfolio or project. If you are undertaking something similar to this, you will no doubt at some point have to critically analyse your process, writing and ideas. In this vain the journal is also invaluable. At the point in February when I began to write my critical commentary of 2000 words I had a whole journals worth of thoughts, research, character profiles, information, timelines, locations; it became an inexhaustible source of help throughout this process.

An inevitable task every writer, poet, novelist has to face at some point is finding a title. Now, I am usually terrible at this. However, I found that through putting all the thought and effort into every aspect of the story I was telling: whether this be research or character building, a title came naturally. I guess more than anything writing something that I knew I would have to explain to some extent in the critical commentary, meant I put more thought into the tiniest details than I ever had before – I have a tendency to be a little lazy and kind of blag my way through the reasons why I have written something a certain way etc, a few years ago I would have just said ‘well because I want to’, but I’ve learnt that no one is exempt from being challenged on their ideas.

As a final note, in retrospect, months after completion I will say two last things:
Share your work. Read it out to people,  give it to people email it to your parents,  your friends.  There is NOTHING better than getting an outside opinion. When writing a novel or a dissertation it is so very easy to get caught up in your own head, your own brilliance, your insecurities about your writing, how capable you are. Nothing remedies this better than getting a pair of fresh eyes on your writing. And with every new reading of your work you edit – and let me tell you this, you can never edit enough.
Finally, have fun with it. Be creative, it’s a creative writing dissertation/project in the end! Don’t be scared to do something different or something that you might find a little scary at first; travel into unknown waters. For example I knew I wanted an epigraph, but couldn’t decide on a excerpt. So, instead I user a track from a Son Lux album that I had been listening to throughout the whole writing process. This worked as a setting of the scene, atmosphere and headspace for the reader; plus I felt it matched the story of my two main characters remarkably.
So there it is! I absolutely loved my experience of writing my dissertation. And with some forward planning, organisation and just making sure I chose something that I REALLY loved to write about, I pretty much managed to entirely avoid any stress. It’s honestly not as hard as many people say it is. Pick something you love and like me and my friends who also did creative writing dissertations, at the end of the process all you’ll want to do is continue writing.


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