“The place we have been happiest working? Paris. So how do we recreate Paris in Canada, on campus at UVic?”
Lisa and Mary Elizabeth introduced the group to the concept that maybe being happy writing means being productive writing – rather than what many of us do, which is punish ourselves until we write. I think you all know the score: ‘I can only leave the office / library / this concrete box I’ve locked myself in when I’ve written X words’; ‘When I’ve finished this section I can finally eat’; ‘Just finish this paragraph and *then* I can go to the toilet’ (I have excellent bladder control).
These sorts of techniques have seen me through countless essays – and countless sleepless nights. But if I learnt anything from how ill this made me in my undergrad degree, it was that on a long slog like a PhD I needed to look after myself better. But I still thought that getting words on the page of necessity involved a little bit of suffering.
So ‘Happy Writing’ came as somewhat of a revelation. It took a day or so of pondering until I thought of where I have been happiest writing academically: the Clifton Lido in Bristol, where I hammered out my Masters thesis in a month and a half, sat outside for much of that time, tucking into Syrian lentils and ice cream, nattering with resident Russians, and dipping myself in and out of the pool, jacuzzi, and sauna as required. I was not only happy, but extremely productive.
So, how can I recreate the Clifton Lido in Edinburgh? Seriously, how? (I’m still trying to work that one out.)
One thing I know is that I have definitely been happy – and productive – in my writing this week. The nice, calming yet relaxed surroundings; the sense of being surrounded by like-minded and like-goaled friends; the time outside, some of it energetic, some of it less so; the excellent food; the music room with its diverting and delightful sounds, conversation, and company – I think this has approximated my Clifton Lido pretty closely. But with less water.
By Eystein Thanisch (Celtic and Scottish Studies)
I find it quite difficult to come up with a single situation in which I have been happiest writing. My written work tends to develop quite slowly, in fits and starts, and with many redrafts, so there are few situations which I can identify as very successful writing sessions in and of themselves.
There have been some situations where I have been very happy even though I was writing. Both EdJoWri-Weeks spring to mind, as does a certain week back in my first year (January 2012). I was staying a week with my girlfriend in London. She would spend each day at law school and I would spend each day in the kitchen of her flat, in a tower high over Tottenham, working on an article, chatting to her flatmates, and making food for when she came home. It was a very peaceful few days. I wasn't worrying about anything; I don't remember experiencing the unproductive anxiety around writing that can easily affect me – perhaps because I was far away from my usual environment and even far from the ground. The article eventually turned out well (it is 'in press', as the euphemism has it).
To replicate these circumstances in everyday work, I might try removing myself from other distractions or finding somewhere new to write from time to time. I know someone who only managed to finish her Ph.D thesis after being dispatched to Abu Dhabi for her work. As Lawrence says, the desert is clean.
By Lara Arnason (Chinese Studies)
When Lisa and Mary Elizabeth told us about how helpful it can be to work under conditions that attempt to reproduce “happiest writing moments,” I did some thinking about what my happy writing moment might be. I immediately felt discouraged. Memories of writing my thesis were all coloured with pressure, frustration, and self-doubt. I felt discouraged – how could I find a happy moment to reproduce if all I could remember was years of repeated deadline-based struggle? All I could hear was the reader on my shoulder telling me “this is bad, this is all bad, you’ll never make a clear article out of this”.
After facing this perfectionist malfunction all day yesterday, I gave up and went to a café. I tried to find my argument through bullet points written with paper and pen. As I started writing, my happy writing moment came to me! I suddenly remembered the feeling of writing a poem or a letter from a fabulous café. I used to do this quite a bit – go to a café, notebook in hand, imagine myself the next Hemingway or Lorca, and I would write something Very Important.
It seems I had forgotten that academic writing is also creative writing, and can also be fun and Very Important. After a bit of handwriting yesterday, my ideas suddenly seemed to have a life of their own. An hour and 2 A4 sheets later, I had my argument entirely mapped out. It wasn’t even painful! I daresay I even enjoyed it.