How to Break Your Writer’s Block

… or Getting Ideas Out of Your Head And Onto The Page

This post by Bristol PGR Pam Lock, who’s been running Writers’ Retreats at Bristol since 2014, was originally shared on the Bristol Clear Blog.

A man slumped in front of a laptop

Some days writing is hard. Whether you have writer’s block or just can’t translate your ideas into writing, here are some practical ways to get your ideas out of your head and onto the page.

Free Writing

What is Free Writing? Free Writing is a brain dump, a way to write down your thoughts and ideas without constricting them by constantly editing yourself. It can be particularly useful for people who are afraid to ‘dirty the page’ with words that aren’t quite perfect or who lose track of ideas because they are constantly editing as they write.

Free writing is not about creating beautiful prose. That is the next stage, or even the stage after that. As Terry Pratchett once said, ‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story’. Once you understand what story you want to tell, you can shape and translate it for others to read and understand. Free writing gives you a different way to access and explore your ideas.

How do I do it? For five minutes, write non-stop: don’t lift your fingers from the keyboard or your pen from the page. Just keep writing. Don’t stop to ponder or make corrections or look up a word’s meaning in the dictionary. Just keep writing.

If you find yourself stuck for something to say, write, ‘I don’t know what to write next’ or repeat the last word you wrote again and again until a fresh thought emerges. It won’t take long.
Be strict, finish your sentence at 5 minutes and stop writing.

When can I use free writing? There are lots of uses for free writing. I recommend it:

  • As a warm up. If you want to get started at the beginning of a writing day, five minutes of creative free writing is a great way to get yourself into the groove before you start tackling your academic writing. It can also open up creative pathways in your brain allowing you to write more smoothly. Write on anything: the view from your window, your journey to work, a painting or photo.
  • As a method to move forward when you are stuck. We all get stuck. Sometimes we just can’t quite work out what we think about something. Sometimes a walk around the block can be good to clear your head. Or five minutes of free writing to help you access deeper thoughts or accept ideas you may have been blocking for some reason.
  • As a way to develop or close an idea. It is easy to get into an inescapable circular pattern of writing. You get obsessed with one idea and end up writing it in slightly different phrasing again, and again, and again until you have thousands of words repeating one thing. Sometimes you just need to close the idea. Free writing can be a great way to do this so that you can move onto the next thing.

Want to know more? For more information about free writing, take a look at:

Peter Elbow, ‘Freewriting Exercises’, Writing without Teachers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 3-11.

Richard Nordquist, ‘What Is Freewriting? How Writing Without Rules Can Help You Overcome Writer’s Block

Six-word summaries

If you find free writing too unstructured, you could try creating a six-word summary of your article or chapter, or even of a single paragraph that isn’t working.

  • Take a few minutes to think about what the piece you want to summarise is about.
  • You may find it useful to write down a few key words to get you started.
  • Spend five minutes sculpting a six-word summary of the piece
  • Not only can this help you work out the essence of your writing piece, the summary you produce can be helpful in the editing process too.
    • Ask yourself: Does every paragraph or sentence help me to communicate the essential ideas of this piece to my reader?
    • Use it to ensure you don’t include anything redundant or miss anything essential from your writing.

Talk to someone else

For some people, writing can be a lonely process. I advocate finding someone you like to write with and meeting up with them regularly for company and motivation. Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary.

Writing buddies can take many forms. Finding someone you trust to be quiet and productive during your writing time but who will be good distracting company during those very important breaks is a great way to improve your writing.

They can also help you break through writer’s block. Talk for 5 minutes at the beginning of a writing day about what you want to each. Challenge each other. Can you help improve or clarify each other’s writing projects? If you are stuck on something, talk it through with your writing buddy. Even if they are not familiar with your subject, they may just ask the right question to make you look at your ideas in a new way.


Want to get involved in WriteFest 2018, the celebration of academic writing held during November? Find out how the Bristol Doctoral College is marking the month in our round-up blogpost.

Tips, tea and time outs — it’s time for Self Care Week 2018

A teapot with the captions 'Got time for a time out?' and '#selfcareweek'

Self Care Week 2018 begins on Monday 12 November, and it’s an opportunity for all of us to take stock and think about our day-to-day wellbeing.

To mark the occasion, the PGR Hub will be hosting free events that provide an opportunity to talk about self-care — and just take a break.

Meet your Student Wellbeing Advisers
Wednesday 14 November, 2.30–4.30pm
An opportunity to meet your faculty’s Student Wellbeing Advisers and learn what they can do for you. This 90-minute session will also include practical tips for looking after yourself. Book now on Eventbrite.

Relaxation Afternoon
Friday 16 November, 12–5pm
As it says on the (biscuit) tin, this is an opportunity to take a break, enjoy some free tea and biscuits, and relax in the PGR Hub. No booking required!

In addition, although it won’t be held during Self Care Week, bookings are also now open for the Bristol Wellbeing Therapies information session on 26 November — a chance to get tips on managing stress and anxiety, and to find how you can get support from the NHS. To attend this special session, sign up for a free place on Eventbrite.

Competition

We’ll also be marking the occasion by asking for your self-care tips — and collating them for a BDC blogpost.

Whether it’s a technique that helps you to relax or a little routine that gives you a break from your research, you can share your nuggets of wellbeing wisdom using one of the channels listed below. We’ll pick a tip at random at 5pm on Monday 19 November, and its author will win 10 Bristol Pounds.

You can submit your tip:

  • as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #selfcareweek Facebook posts
  • as a tweet with the #selfcareweek and #BristolPGRs hashtags
  • as an Instagram post with the #selfcareweek and #BristolPGRs hashtag
  • in an email to doctoral-college@bristol.ac.uk.

Terms and conditions

  • The competition is open to all current postgraduate research students at the University of Bristol.
  • The closing date for entries is 5pm on Monday 19 November 2018.
  • The winner will receive 10 Bristol pounds.
  • The winner will be selected at random.
  • Multiple entries are permitted.

LettUs Grow welcomes doctoral research student for indoor farming placement

Image credit: Lettus Grow

Bristol-based AgriTech company, LettUs Grow, recently welcomed Sam Brooks, a Bristol University PhD student, for a three-month placement in their organisation. Ben Crowther, LettUs Grow CTO and Bristol Graduate, shares his thoughts on the scheme. 

 A new initiative launched by the Bristol Doctoral College is inviting organisations to participate in the Bristol Industrial PhD Placement scheme. This involves sending Doctoral Researchers on funded three-month science and engineering placements in a range of sectors – from startups and SMEs to larger companies, government bodies and policy organisations. 

 As University of Bristol graduates, we were particularly keen to get involved. LettUs Grow was set up by the three founders – Jack Farmer, Charlie Guy and myself – whilst still at University. We wanted to tackle some of the biggest problems facing the planet: global warming and food security. By combining our backgrounds in engineering and biology, we found innovative ways of using aeroponics to help indoor farmers scale up their operations to compete with traditional agriculture.  

 It has been a pleasure to travel full circle and support an internship after completing a number of them myself whilst studying at the University of Bristol. This internship programme has cemented the University as a key source of future talent and we look forward to working with more doctoral researchers in the future. 

 This year we welcomed Sam Brooks, a doctoral researcher in the field of thermodynamics, onto the LettUs Grow team. Sam was a crucial member of staff during his time here. His wealth of experience, unique skills and fresh perspective were invaluable to a number of our projects. During his placement, he helped us build one of Europe’s first vertical aeroponic farms in central Bristol, an incredible achievement.  

 The placement wasn’t just great for us, Sam had a fantastic time too. Here’s what Sam had to say about the experience: 

 “Working for a small company meant that I was exposed to all areas of the business. LettUs Grow was keen that I should try everything from manufacturing products to harvesting crops, so I could understand all aspects of the business. The work was incredibly varied, and no two weeks were the same. One week I might be doing complex calculations and the next I could be building an indoor farm from the ground up. Academia often feels quite slow, but at LettUs Grow there was something new happening every week. 

 “The placement opened my eyes to a whole new area of research and career opportunities that I would never have considered before. Even with a project so far removed from my field of research, it was impossible not to notice crossovers. It has given me confidence that I can adapt and be a useful asset to a company. Having work experience during your PhD is incredibly useful on your CV. It shows that you have the soft skills to succeed in all types of work.  

 “University research can be very solitary, so it was great to be back working in a team. It was a pleasure working with everyone at LettUs Grow. They were all incredibly fun, supportive and welcoming. I would recommend it to anyone!”


Further information

Interested in how you can get involved in a placement with Industry, or want to learn more about the benefits of such an experience? Attend an upcoming talk on The Value of Placement, Tuesday 20th November from 18:00-19:30. You can sign up via Eventbrite.

WriteFest 2018


text which reads "writefest"

What is WriteFest?

November is Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo), an academic write-a-thon that happens every year, inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) but catering to the specific needs of academic writers. It’s hosted by PhD2Published, as an online space where the global academic community can pledge their writing projects, record progress, and share thousands of writing tips via the #AcWriMo hashtag on Twitter.

WriteFest (#AcWriFest18) is our local University of Bristol contribution, and will bring together academics and researchers from across the university to recognise and celebrate writing. Drawing on the format of the very popular academic writing retreatsWriteFest 2018 has some added workshops, a guide to crafting your own ideal writing soundtrack, a creative writing element, and lots of curated articles about academic writing. We encourage all academics, research staff, and research students to join us and write. 

WriteFest started at Sheffield University. This year, there are 11 partner universities contributing to the festival! ExeterBristolManchester, Kings College London, Keele, Sheffield Hallam, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Derby, and Adelaide! 


What is the University of Bristol doing for WriteFest 2018?

The Bristol Doctoral College Blog will be posting information and articles throughout the month to support you in all matters related to writing – and help you to take a break from writing!

Alongside Bristol Clear, who support Research Staff at the University, we have organised the following workshops and writing retreats. All BDC-run activities are free for postgraduate researchers to attend, and all Bristol Clear-run activities are free for academic and research staff to attend*. 

Look out for our upcoming blog posts and shared articles on social media throughout the month of November. 

All of our planned activities will take place in the PGR Hub, 1st Floor of Senate House, unless otherwise specified.

*Please note that all Bristol Clear offers are in italics. If you are an academic or research staff member, find out more about taking part on the Bristol Clear blog. 

Week 1 

  • Writers Retreat (in conjunction with a Bristol Clear Writing Day)– 1st November  

Week 2 

  • Bristol Clear: Writers’ Retreat – 5th November 
  • Thesis Bootcamp – 5th, 6th, 7th November 
  • Drop-in Writing Day, PGR Hub – 9th November

Week 3 

Week 4 

  • Bristol Clear: Regular Productive Academic Writing – 19th November 
  • Bristol Clear: How to Peer review research manuscripts for journals – 20th November 
  • Take a break: relaxation afternoon – 21st November
  • Drop-in Writing Day, PGR Hub – 23rd November

Week 5 

  • Drop-in Writing Day, PGR Hub – 27th November
  • Writers Retreat – 30th November

How else can I get involved?

The University of Bristol is aiming to write a collective total of 500,000 words* throughout the month, and you can help us to reach this ambitious target (and see our little chart change) by letting us know your word count!

You can share your tally every day, every week or at the end of the month — whatever works for you. To take part, just tell us your word count by using #AcWriFest18 and #BristolPGRs in your Twitter or Instagram post. You can also send us an email, contact us using Facebook Messenger or post a comment on this very blog.

*Our original target of 100,000 words was jettisoned after some outstanding word counts in week one. So the Bristol bar has been raised…

Welcome new researchers — by sharing what you love about Bristol

It’s a huge celebration for new postgraduate researchers — and, this year, we’re asking all our PGRs to mark the occasion by sending us a snap of something they love about the city, the University or their research.

At our Researcher Inauguration, which takes place on 18 October in the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building, we’ll be welcoming hundreds of new PGRs to the University with speeches, fun activities, refreshments and, of course, free scarves. (If you started your research degree after the November 2017 inauguration, be sure to book your free ticket on Eventbrite.)

We already have a selection of stock snaps for the Great Hall’s big screen (which may or may not feature balloons and bridges), but we thought it’d be much more meaningful to share some of your photos — especially images that encapsulate what you’ve enjoyed about your time so far.

To take part, just share a snap in one of the following ways:

  • as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #WelcomePGRs Facebook posts
  • as a tweet with the #WelcomePGRs hashtag
  • as an Instagram post with the #WelcomePGRs hashtag
  • in an email to doctoral-college@bristol.ac.uk.

We’ll pick our four favourite entries at 5pm on Wednesday 17 October. The winners will be displayed on the Main Hall’s giant screen during the Researcher Inauguration and exhibited in the new PGR Hub from the week beginning 22 October.

Good luck — and happy snapping!

Terms and conditions

  • The competition is open to all current postgraduate research students at the University of Bristol.
  • The closing date for entries is 5pm on Wednesday 17 October 2018.
  • Each winner will receive a £10 Watershed voucher. Four prizes will be awarded.
  • Entries will be judged by members of the Bristol Doctoral College team.
  • Entrants can submit more than one photo.
  • Winners consent to their winning photos being displayed during the Bristol Doctoral College’s Researcher Inauguration event on 18 October 2018 and in the PGR Hub in Senate House.
  • Photos will not be used for commercial purposes.

Ada Lovelace Day: one day isn’t enough

Portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), by Alfred Edward Chalon

For Ada Lovelace Day, Angela Suriyakumaran — a PhD student in the School of Chemistry and a STEM Ambassador — shares a personal reflection.

Someone recently asked me if I had a role model in science that I aspired to as a kid. A lot of you would expect me to name a famous scientist we all learn about in school, but my answer was no. There is one simple reason to that: no one I read or heard about was like me.

Let me add some context: I am a scientist, who happens to be of the South Asian origin, gay, first in my family to attain a degree and a woman. As a kid, I knew I was different but it took me years to realise why, and how that may create some obstacles for me in life. I was different from my family, who only knew manual labour as a way of life and just wanted to survive. I was different from the nine-year-olds in my first UK school, who didn’t understand the sorrow of leaving behind your best friends (human and dog) in a country over 5000 miles away. I was different from the boys who were expected to excel in the sciences and the girls in the arts, because I was okay at sewing but better at multiplying. All of these differences are part of my identity, but they are also the reasons why I could not and often still cannot find role models to connect to within Science.

Being a woman in STEM is a privilege I treasure, but it also comes with the burden of knowing that there are kids still out there who feel just as different as me. Some of these kids will overcome those barriers to reach heights they never even dreamed of, and for some, it will fade into the background as just a dream. So why does all of this matter?

I believe there is real worth in taking the time to go out to schools, and reach out to kids, especially young girls, to teach, inspire and show them that there are people just like them living their dream. Even if we inspire just one self-doubting young girl to keep chasing her aspirations, we have made a difference. And who knows? She may be the next Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson or Youyou Tu, but most importantly, we have given her the tools to be the best version of herself.

One day a year is not enough time to show a world full of kids that they are not alone in breaking down barriers through their very existence, but it’s a start.

Meet your PGR Faculty Representatives

Your PGR Faculty Reps are elected student representatives who represent all the students in their faculty to the university.  There are three reps per faculty, one for each level of study: Undergraduate, Postgraduate Taught, and Postgraduate Research. They play a vital role in supporting, consulting with, and building a community amongst their course reps. Each rep chairs their own Faculty Student Staff Liaison Committee (FSSLC), spaces where students can air any faculty level academic issues with university staff and find solutions to them.

They attend meetings such as University Senate, the highest committee in the university, ensuring students’ views on educational issues are being heard.

Moreover, they’re a valuable voice in the Bristol SU democratic structures, sitting on Bristol SU Standing Committee, and being voting members of Student Council. Faculty reps make sure that SU policies and campaigns take into account the needs of students in thier faculty. They also work with the SU’s Full-time Education Officers by sitting on the Education Network committee, to improve students’ academic experience, and make sure that SU policies and campaigns take into account the needs of students in their faculty.

Meet your elected Postgraduate Research Faculty Representatives below!

William Hamilton, Faculty of Arts

My goals for the upcoming year will be to make progress in areas with recurring problems, not least work space, and balancing research with extracurricular projects. I want to grow our postgraduate research communities by supporting pre-existing networks, as well as facilitating the creation of new events and communication channels.

 

Joshua Mudie, Faculty of Engineering

I am hoping to work with the PGR Course reps to improve the welcome that new postgraduate researchers receive when joining the Faculty, and also making sure that every department and Centre for Doctoral Training has their own course rep who is linked into the Faculty network of course reps to make it easier for us to help each other and improve the quality of doing an Engineering PhD.

Edmund Moody, Faculty of Life Sciences

I want to focus on increasing mental health awareness for postgraduate research students and integration between all schools in the life sciences faculty. 

Chris Brasnett, Faculty of Science

My main priorities for the year ahead are to work on promoting representation of Science postgraduate researchers at all levels across the faculty, and developing training opportunities for doctoral teachers.

Shubham Singh, Postgraduate Education Officer

I want to ensure that there are efficient support-structures in place to enhance the well-being of postgraduate researchers.

 

Please note that Jessica Naylor, PGR Faculty rep for Health Sciences, and Jafia Naftali Camara, PGR Faculty rep for Social Sciences and Law, will be updated once they officially take post early in the academic year 2018-19. Please email Caitlin Flint, the Bristol SU Representation Co-ordinator, if you would like to get in touch with either of these reps.

If you would like to get in touch with any of your reps, you can email them directly.

Find out more about the various Bristol SU Networks, including the Education and the PG Networks, on their website.

Your #PGRtrek pictures — a globetrotting gallery

Whether it’s a quick trip to Trondheim or several weeks in Sri Lanka, many PGRs use the summer months to travel beyond Bristol for conferences, symposia and fieldwork. What better way to capture the diverse range of locations visited by these roving researchers than to round them up in a globetrotting gallery? (OK, so we could’ve made a map instead — but we thought this would be more visually appealing.)

Yes, the #PGRtrek competition returned for another year — and this year’s selection of shots didn’t disappoint, with photos featuring everything from frozen fjords to sun-kissed sands. A selection of our favourite snaps are below. Which one do you like the most? Tell us in a comment.

Celebrating the Olden times

Claire Williams submitted this image of a serene green lake, taken during her visit to Olden in Norway.

Trondheim travels

This year’s Inascon conference, held at NTNU Trondheim, gave some of our PGRs a chance take in the spectacular Geiranger Fjord in Norway — as captured in this photo by Victoria Hamilton.

Victoria Hamilton and Gary at Geiranger Fjord, Norway.

Rwandan roamings

This shot of a school in Gitarama, Rwanda, was submitted by Leanne Cameron, a researcher in the School of Education.

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Leanne (@leanneagain) on

Canadian crustaceans

This downtown crab was captured by Anouk Tleps whilst on a break from a conference in Vancouver, Canada. Although this wasn’t the farthest-flung location, Anouk was the winner of this year’s random draw.

Jassi’s epic journey

Although not a winner in this year’s competition, University of Bristol Law School PGR Jassi Sandhar deserves an honourable mention for submitting a stunning selection of images from her recent fieldwork in Rwanda, Uganda and Sri Lanka — featuring Buddhist statues, waterfalls and a particularly bovine beach. And how many people can say they’ve been photobombed by an elephant?

A statue of the Buddha in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Murchison Falls, Uganda

Cow on abeach in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

An elephant in Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka

The trees of Telok Blangah

Second-year PhD student Ashley Tyrer travelled to Singapore in June to attend OHBM 2018 — and, whilst there, took this striking image of Telok Blangah Hill Park. By our calculations, this lush foliage is over 11,000km from Bristol, making Ashley this year’s runner-up.

Telok Blangah Hill Park, Singapore

A quick hop to Honolulu

It was a close-run contest, but her trip to Honolulu, Hawaii for a conference — a journey of over 11,800km — meant Angie McFox was crowned this year’s #PGRtrek winner. Congratulations, Angie!

Thank you to everyone who took part! Whether or not you were a winner, we really enjoyed seeing your images and reflecting on how far PGR life can take you.

[This blogpost was updated on 10 September 2018 to include Angie McFox’s photo and to make it clear that this was the winning entry.]

Help us name your new PGR space

A banner collage of images, including two research students working together at a desk, a close up of a cup of tea held in someone's hands, and some laptops.We’re excited to announce the opening of a new space this October that is dedicated solely to the postgraduate research community. This new physical space in the refurbished Senate House (as part of the Campus Heart project) will offer a programme of events and activities designed to support, develop and connect our 3,000-strong body of postgraduate researchers, regardless of your faculty, funding, part-time or distance learner status.

Acting as a hub for all research students, this new space will offer:

  • Personal and professional development training
  • Bookable spaces for small research groups and cross-disciplinary meet-ups
  • Social activities
  • A quiet space to escape from the hubbub of campus life
  • Wellbeing support and resources

And more – we’d love to hear your suggestions about how we can make this valuable for you.

#MakeThisYours

The new PGR hub is a space dedicated to you and informed by you. Have your say and tell us how we can #MakeThisYours.

We invite you to #MakeThisYours before the space even opens by submitting a possible name for our new hub. Are there any famous research alumni who have inspired your journey? Could Hub-McHubFace be a serious contender? Send us your suggestions on social media or via email, and you’ll be entered into a random prize draw for one of two £25 Amazon vouchers!

We’ll put our favourite submissions to the vote in our next BDC Bulletin, due to land in inboxes September 14th.

Where has your research taken you this summer?

A pinboard with the caption: Tell us about your #PGRtrek
Featured images: Lake Superior by Andrea Iannelli; Honolulu by Fiona Belbin; Melbourne by Kacper Sokol; Montmorency Falls by Lin Ma; Patagonia by Sarah Tingey.

We know that the summer months can be busy for Bristol’s postgraduate researchers, and that many of you use the time to travel overseas for conferences, symposia, field work, and so on.

We thought it’d be fun, then, to launch a photo challenge with a travel twist.

Yes, our #PGRtrek competition is back for 2018 — and, this time around, the postgraduate researcher who’s been to the farthest-flung location (for ‘business’ reasons rather than pleasure) will win a £50 contribution towards the cost of any research-related travel. We’ll also be offering another £50 contribution to a random draw from all other entrants to the challenge.

To enter our competition — and see your pin on our map — just share a snap from your travels in one of the following ways:

  • as a comment on one of the Bristol Doctoral College’s #PGRtrek Facebook posts
  • as a tweet with the #PGRtrek hashtag
  • as an Instagram post with the #PGRtrek hashtag
  • in an email to doctoral-college@bristol.ac.uk.

We’ll be sharing a #PGRtrek gallery on the blog later in the year, so please let us know if you don’t want your picture to be featured.

The closing date for the competition is noon on Friday 31 August. Good luck — and happy snapping!

Terms and conditions

The competition is open to current postgraduate research students at the University of Bristol.

The closing date for entries is 12pm on Friday 31 August 2018.

The prize is £50 towards the cost of any research-related travel.

The prize will be awarded via a transfer of funds or a reimbursement of expenses.

The prize will be awarded to the entrant whose research-related activity was the furthest Bristol. The activity in question must have taken place between 1 June and 31 August 2018.

Unless entrants indicate otherwise, images submitted during the competition will be featured on the Bristol Doctoral College blog.