library, thesis management

Sixteen hints on how to do a creative writing thesis…

This post is by Jen Anderson, who recently completed  her MFA (Research) at QUT, combining practice-led creative work  with traditional research. Jen is a Registered Nurse, but long before that, has been a writer and used writing as an outlet and salve.  The creative comprises stories from her days as a student nurse – interweaving both those of her patients and herself – see footnote. Below, Jen shares some Sixteen Hints.



I am a mature-aged student who has just passed my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Research). I submitted a thesis that was 55% practice-led creative writing and 45% research.

IMG_9817It is definitely a surreal feeling, having it all done, never to worry about again. And I reached a point where I was happy with the end result. However, one of my examiners was not, resulting in a few weeks delay while I addressed their concerns regarding typos but, more importantly, argument flow. I found it annoying at first to explain what I thought was already distinctly clear. But that was only because I had read and re-read my thesis so many times that I could just about recite it word for word; I could not see the wood for the trees. Finally, though, I saw their point. And the extra time spent on it meant it turned out to be the best work it could be.

Below I share sixteen hints/suggestions designed to help you  with the journey:

  1. Start early. It is exciting to finally have a chance to do creative writing that has, in the case of my memoir, been many years in the making. Because of this excitement (where do I start?), and work/family/life getting in the way, it took me a while to get started on my creative work. I did not realise how much editing and re-editing I would need. I was able to get down in a document the basic outline and some of the meaty bits of the creative writing over a short period, but the sooner you start, the more time you have. You WILL run out of time.
  2. Complete the creative writing as soon as possible. If your creative practice is driving your research, it makes sense to get the practice part done quickly.
  3. Keep your creative writing and research in separate word documents. It makes it easier for editing; it separates it in your mind so it is not as overwhelming; and it is easy to collate once you feel the bulk of both are done.
  4. Use 12 point font and double spacing from the start. Makes it much easier to collate.
  5. Set up a separate document from the beginning for your Bibliography. It is better if you choose a referencing style (APA or Harvard) from the beginning. I chose not to use Endnote as I preferred to put mine by hand in an A4 notebook. Later, when I was sick of the sight of my research or creative, I spent a day or two correctly documenting my references. Rather than choosing to use Works Referenced/Works Cited, for example, I chose to use the word Bibliography because it covered all my resource types.
  6. Use your helpful CI admin people regarding details of your candidature, dates, paperwork.
  7. Use your QUT librarians. I found them an extremely helpful resource, especially in understanding the correct wording to search for the specific information I was seeking.
  8. Make use of the quiet area in the QUT library. Even though there is no easy access to coffee or food, the peace is welcome and the silence is golden.
  9. Keep your thesis title, or main research question, in big letters in an obvious place while doing research. It makes it easier to decide if what you have found is directly relevant to your work or a tangent that you can get lost in.
  10. Write your Abstract, Intro, and Conclusion last. Even though you have a basic idea, you don’t really know where your research will take you so leave the exact wording of these areas until the end.
  11. Use sticky notes to check flow. I needed to visualise the project so I found it helpful to write the outline or thrust of each section on different coloured sticky notes. I then set them all out on a table to plot out the creative and, for the research, to check for argument flow, removing that which I thought was unnecessary or didn’t quite fit with the research question.
  12. After completing your work and combining all the different aspects, have a break. Seriously. Give yourself at least two to three weeks – more if possible – without looking at your baby. Then when you do return to it you have a fresh perspective. But don’t read the whole thing, as one, yet. If your thesis is divided into critical and creative like mine, just read one section.
  13. Read it out loud. This way you can feel how it flows, typos make a glaring appearance, and you can fix and edit down to not just paragraph level, but also, line level and word level.
  14. Decide on the overall look after the important part is done. How the contents/acknowledgments etc pages appear; where to put in page breaks/use of bold/italicising quotes; and what look to bind and print it in are all important decisions regarding presentation – but leave this until after you have collated all the moving parts.
  15. Take regular short breaks during the writing up, researching, and editing phases. Every hour, I took a 5 minute break where I stood up, walked around, stared out the window, flexed my neck and shoulders and stretched my fingers, had a drink of water, and checked my phone. I did not touch my phone or any other distraction during those 55 minutes prior to my quick break. These tactics helped with focus and concentration.
  16. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. I cannot stress how important this aspect is. Eat properly. Sleep well. EXERCISE, even just going for a short walk outdoors. Minimise stressors, especially at the pointy end. Lock yourself away (at the local library if necessary).

I hope these hints have helped you to work through your project and not get overwhelmed. And good luck. Now it’s time for me to think about graduation 🙂

^ My MFA is entitled “This Will Probably Hurt: stories from my student nurse training” and “Double Helix: mapping the generic ethical codes of creative nonfiction writing and medical writing”. The creative outcome is the first half of a book, which I hope to complete and ready for publication. I felt drawn to expressing these aspects, as I was learning not only the enormity of the path I was on and its inherent culture, but also coming to terms with my own changing identity. In writing about my history, which is a story that has been building and needing expression for many years, I was compelled to tell the truth at the same time as creating stories that were more inviting than mere factual accounts. This caused an ethical tension within me. In a way, I was struggling with the dual aspects of my identity: a nurse whose professional conduct required objective documentation; and a writer whose creative and professional obligations are to capture the essence of a story and relate it in an interesting and thought-provoking manner to readers. 

Note, image is taken by Evonne Miller and is of books on a pink outdoor bookshelf,  on campus briefly during an event.



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