Creative Writing Dissertation: My Experience

It’s been nine long months since I first began working out a concept for my dissertation. The beginnings of the idea began during a walk through Cwmfelinfach and Ynysddu last August, where I spoke at length to Josh about an idea largely involving a pregnancy scandal and a very tense love triangle. It’s hard to believe how much the story changed over time.

The actual process of doing my dissertation was relatively simple. I chose the module around Easter of my second year. In the first week of third year I was assigned my supervisor, and for the next two semesters I saw her every couple weeks for what was supposed to be half an hour each time. (In reality, my sessions lasted about twice that, purely because I lack the ability to shut up.)

Before each supervisor session, I handed in whatever I’d managed to write since the last time. These submissions were handed in with the knowledge that they would be early drafts, in need of much improvement. Then, a week later, I’d arrive at the office and we’d go through the good, the bad and the terrible aspects of my work. There wasn’t much back-patting, which I actually expected after the last two years. I’ve always had the impression that the staff and students here are too lenient with their criticism (that, or I’m too harsh on myself, but judging by the ‘ok’ grades I tent to get for my creative work, I don’t think that’s true). Instead, my supervisor pointed out all problems with my work, and we talked about how I could resolve them.

After Easter, I wrapped the piece of work up with a title page, contents, declaration, acknowledgements and bibliography, and sent the whole thing off to be bound. Two days (and £11.73) later, I was happily carrying my shiny black dissertation back from Normal Site.

Here’s a terribly blurry picture of it.

The emotional side of writing my dissertation was a bit more difficult.

For a bit of context, I’ll mention that I set the creative part of my dissertation in a world I created about two years ago. I won’t mention any actual details in case I somehow flag myself for plagiarism, but it’s a world I created for a game of dungeons and dragons. I then spent 2014’s Camp NaNoWriMo getting out the first half of a novel set in the world, and rounded it off to 100k words in the 2014 November NaNo. I also set my 2nd year screenplay project in the same world (but several years on), so it’s a place I know and love.

So my story was set in a sort of butchered, pre-steampunk, post-medieval version of my world, to accommodate for the fact that the English department at Bangor get a bit weird if you start talking about a typical fantasy setting. I ended up really liking the changes I made, but I can’t deny that I missed the magic of the old world. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to going back to when I start writing the third novel set in the world.

The characters I chose were probably the most developed I’ve ever made, which meant that I obviously fell in love with them. In my mind, they have real, believable flaws that could actually make you think badly of them (unlike some of my previous characters, who were just a bit stubborn or ‘liked to be alone’). At the same time though, they all have things to strive for, positive traits and quirks that make me think yeah, I could go for a coffee with you.

So the fact that I was so attached to the setting and the characters made writing a tedious and slow process. The more I care about my work, the more careful and reluctant I am to go off on tangents. My usual writing process is to free-write and edit back, but that was impossible here. I think this was also partly caused by being forced to write a plan. I don’t do well with plans. This all led to me getting quite frustrated with the work in general, because it wasn’t going where I wanted to as fast as I’d hoped. Originally, I’d planned to get up to the point of introducing my third main character, but that never happened, which was disappointing.

On a more positive note, one of the best things for me about my dissertation was being able to talk to other people who were in the same boat. It’s quite a lonely process, especially if you’re the kind of student that’s used to working on assignments with friends. You can’t lean across a table and ask for the solution to your problem when you’re the only one working on your specific piece. You can, however, swap drafts, talk through your plot holes, share your worries and console each other when things get hard.

Overall, it was a fun experience that I would definitely do again. A lot of people told me I’d be very stressed about my dissertation, which was true, but it was a good opportunity to really get stuck in to a piece of creative work. At the moment, I can say I’m quite proud of it.

At the time of publishing this post, it’s been three weeks since I handed my dissertation in. If it goes by the usual marking time for assignments at Bangor, I should be getting my grade in about a week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

(If you have any questions about doing a dissertation in creative writing (in the English department) at Bangor, please feel free to ask!)


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