Skip to main content

The Diary of a PhD Student: Taking my protagonist for tea...

Earlier this week my protagonist stopped talking to me. It’s not as mad as it sounds – I promise – but there really is no other way to describe what happened. I was working on a chapter, or rather a section of a chapter, which saw my protagonist interact via a series of text messages with another character – and it just wasn’t working. I pushed and shoved and wrote and rewrote. It could have been writer’s block – whatever that means, if such a thing even exists – but something about this felt personal.

I looked to my protagonist for an answer and found her faced away from me, arms folded, foot tapping on the floor as if to say, ‘Well if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.’

So I did the only logical thing that I could think of. I packed up my protagonist, took her into town, and we had a catch up over a cup of tea.

I’m not really helping the ‘It’s not as mad as it sounds’ argument there, am I? Hear me out, though...

When I wrote the first draft of my PhD book, I spent the majority of my writing time in coffee shops – because I’m a beautiful cliché like that. The whole thing was handwritten – pause for horrified gasps – and because of that I could be fairly flexible about where I got my writing done on a day to day basis. I occasionally moved coffee shops but typically migrated back towards one in particular where the staff would say, ‘Working today?’ on seeing me and, following my affirmative answer, they would then throw two tea bags into my teapot rather than just the one. There is a special place in heaven for these people, of that much I’m sure.

So Gillian and I, in the early days, spent a lot of time talking and writing over tea. And it turns out that on a grubby Monday morning when we were both equally tired of staring at the same mind-map-marked four walls, we both needed a change of place.

I had obviously done something to annoy her because while we’ve had our battles over the last eighteen months, I can’t recall a time when she flat out refused to have a conversation with me – not a conversation, as such, but you know what I mean. It turns out, though, that the Gillian bit of my brain is about as particular as the superstitious writer part of my brain – who would have thought it? – and that after weeks upon weeks of ripping her apart and piecing her story back together in a different order, with new chunks unashamedly wedged in around her fictional life, the old girl was feeling a bit battered – and I think I probably was as well. So we went for tea at a quiet coffee shop in town, and we took a pen and a notebook, and we talked it out.

It was an entirely new chapter that I was working on but between tea, talking, and a little more wandering around than I had allowed myself to do on previous writing days, Gillian and I got a full draft of that chapter penned over the course of Monday. And for the first time I came to appreciate that protagonists, much like the writers who create them, are well within their rights to be delicate little flowers in need of some love on occasion as well.

So whether you want to call it writer’s block or something else altogether, my stellar piece of advice – until I do this again and it doesn’t work – is to take your protagonist for tea. You’re a good couple and you can work it out, you might just need to say a few home truths to each other first...


Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

In Her Wake is the recently published novel from Amanda Jennings, released a little earlier this year by the friendly folks over at Orenda Books, and it has been collecting glowing reviews – all of which I have tried to avoid – for weeks on end. Now, having dipped into the book myself, it’s clear to me why. I was around three pages in to this read, in fact, when I turned to my friend next to me and said: ‘Bloody hell, this is going to be a good one.’ The novel follows the story of Bella. A young woman who returns to her family home following the unexpected death of her mother, only to be greeted by a father who is so overcome with guilt and anxiety – perhaps what you’d expect following the loss of a spouse, but certainly not how you’d expect it – that their already strained relationship only worsens in the opening chapters of this book. When Bella’s father, Henry, finally reveals what he’d been holding in for so long, Bella’s world promptly falls apart – and the reader’s heart pr

The Diary of a Whatever I Am Now: Corrupted Hard Drive.

Take a walk with me. We’ll go back to August 2010, late August, when I finally found out that despite my below par A-Level grades, there was a university in the country that was prepared to give me a chance. Praise be to them. Ahead of starting this journey, my generous mother bought me a laptop. A brand spanking new laptop. That my kind and patient sister, and her partner, set up for me and taught me how to use. They deliberately picked something that would suit the university life style – and they were bang on the money in that respect. That laptop lasted I-don’t-care-to-remember how many assignments and a 10,000 word undergraduate dissertation. Let’s not forget, either, that during my first and second summers home from university, I also wrote two “novels” (I use that word in a bland and unimpressed tone, incidentally) that were typed on that same laptop. From there, we moved to postgraduate studies. More assignments and eventually a 25,000 word dissertation. By this point

The Diary of a (former) PhD Student: Now I actually have run out of work.

In case the title of this blog post didn’t give it away, let me clarify: I have handed in my PhD thesis.  I handed it in exactly a week ago, actually, and I would have blogged a brag sooner if not for the fact that the day after my hand-in, a family member was taken into hospital, and the last week has sort of slipped away from me as a result of that. It’s been a while since I gave you an update at all, I know, and the last time we “talked”, I was in this blissfully ignorant place of not having any work to do. Let me catch you up from there:             My readers were wonderful. All of those who read and provided feedback for the book part of the project were insightful, considerate, and careful with their responses. I ironed out technical issues and even one or two final plot holes and so, to those who read the manuscript ahead of hand-in, I cannot and will not ever be able to thank you enough.            My supervisor made me cry. A lot. The “final few twe