A Guide To Surviving Your Creative Writing Dissertation

So, you’re about to start your Creative Writing dissertation…

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First, breathe. Are you breathing? Good! Now remember to keep doing that over the next few months because there’s going to be a few times when you might want to stop breathing and start screaming… but I promise you, you’ll be fine.

When it gets tough, and you find yourself lost down a blind research alleyway or your notes disappear into the iCloud ether, step away from your dissertation and just breath for a minute.  And, here you go, here’s a few tips to help keep you on track…


First and foremost, after every writing session, ask yourself, have I backed up my work? If not, why not? BACK UP YOUR WORK.  Use every back up tool you have, iCloud, USB stick, email it to yourself, old fashioned hand-written notes, whatever. But do back up as you go. Not only does it save you having a coronary if, God forbid, things go wrong, but it’s a great tool to use when you are writing up your reflection. You have all those early drafts to compare and contrast, usually in linear order.  I wrote the framework of my reflection as I went along, i.e. ‘I researched X and as a result my creative piece changed in this way’… so when I’d finished my creative work, an early draft of my reflective was already there.


Take your time. I can’t stress this enough. Start early, because time is tricky little minx, one minute your supping a large gin in the May sunshine, the next it’s September and you’ve got two days to submit.

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Timing is everything, especially if you’re working around 101 other commitments.

You might begin with two or three vague ideas, or you might have had your project in mind for years, whatever the case, knuckle down and get started as early as possible.

Set up your framework/outline, then start your research ASAP. However, be prepared, that detailed plan might prove absolutely useless in the grand scheme of things, because your research will change your plan, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. Be flexible, process what you learn from the research then, if you’ve given yourself enough time, you can let these new ideas formulate and you get to focus on the creativity, the magic ingredient that is key when it comes to writing a successful creative writing dissertation. I allowed myself a lot of thinking time, lots of walking, fresh air, percolating thoughts and ideas. Conversely, know when to draw the line with your research and get cracking with the writing! This is a marathon not a sprint, but you still need to stop stretching and start running at some point.


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Thinking is writing… but don’t forget to write!



Write steadily, in short-ish bursts. Think in scenes/sections and try not to overwhelm yourself by concentrating on the dissertation as a whole. Set yourself a goal for that day. Today. I’m going to concentrate on this section, and then reward yourself when you’ve finished. Whatever works for you. I had jammy dodgers, one page = one jammy dodger.

Be open to feedback and critique, not only from your tutor but also your fellow writers.  If you are going to use several beta readers, have a short synopsis of the whole project available, so if they’re only reading a short section, they can comment with a good idea of how your story/script/novel is going to shape up as a whole.  Be specific with your requests. EG, can you please comment on the structure/dialogue/ characterisation in this section? That way, your reader knows where to focus their critique.


Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m stuck!’, ‘I don’t know how this is going to turn out,’, I can’t focus,’ or even worse, ‘I’ve run out of gin!’ You’ll be surprised how a quick chat with your tutor can unravel a seemingly unworkable knot or a feedback session with one or two classmates can help you get out of the dense forest of doubt. Don’t do this thing alone. Share your work and learn from others. Be supported and be supportive.



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Dissertation medicine.


Lastly, leave yourself a good few days to edit, then edit and edit some more. Do this at the end. Get a full first draft down first. There’s no point having a beautifully edited first half of a dissertation and badly rushed second half. Remember, you also need to allow time for the abstract, bibliography and acknowledgements, these are often forgotten until the very last minute and they still take time to write.

Make sure you have followed university layout guidelines, font, page numbers, document structure, etc. Look at your work through the marker’s eyes. Does the structure of my piece flow/makes sense? Is my reflective commentary clear and concise? Have I double checked spelling, grammar, typos? Have I added my student number?  Have I made a copy of my work? Have I inadvertently pasted that copy of my work onto the end of my finished dissertation?  (Yes, I actually did this and only noticed at the last minute!)

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And… some final words. You can do this! You really can. Put the hard work in, because there really is no nicer feeling than hearing your name being called out on Graduation Day. It makes those endless days and nights of study worth it! Good Luck!