Here I Am!

February already?

The run up to Christmas and the New Year was busy in our house, and then it was straight back into work. Except that work was not the way that it is regularly. I’m trying to add to my business, or rather my outputs, by being a publisher of role-playing games and materials. Unpacking that is a post for another day, but I found myself working on that business a lot in the quiet days of January – when universities are less likely to hire a skills trainer for workshops and the like – but also feeling secretly like that was something I wasn’t supposed to be doing.

I earn a living and support my family by doing workshops (and sometimes selling books!), not from games. It felt wrong to spend my time on those things. And yet I wanted to be working on making zines, developing games, commissioning artwork and laying out text. So what was wrong?

Comma Chameleon

I can’t spot my grammar mistakes until long after I’ve made them. Despite taking time and not just dashing out 500 words and hitting publish, I often find bad grammar in what I have created. Or, more typically, my wife spots it. The post that I did yesterday for Viva Survivors went live and I got it sent to me by email (I signed up for my own subscriber list; it helps me remember what’s going on when I’m busy). I scanned it quickly, thinking Yes, another post out there, another connection with- Wait what’s that comma doing there?

They blend in. The commas and the semi-colons lurk in among the words. They make sense in my head. I use them to create pauses or to moderate how I speak – which is how I write to an extent, sort of conversational-like. But it does mean that I risk creating confusion. I want my writing to be conversational, fun, informative, challenging – but not challenging because people are really working to parse things. I think my biggest problem with writing is my own self-belief in what I am doing, a kind of sabotaging impostor syndrome. Not too far behind that is missing the commas, the parentheses and the exclamation marks that just creep in the background.

I wonder what I can do about that. I want to read something about good grammar – which I think I know on some level, but don’t apply consistently – but maybe reading and trying to apply something isn’t enough. Does anyone out there have any suggestions for me? Have you built up good written grammar, and if so, how did you do it?

Thanks for reading.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Under Pressure

I stopped work on a planned series of books in the summertime because it no longer felt like fun. I felt pressured.

What a wimp! I hear you cry, and you’re kind of right. If everyone stopped everything because there was a bit of pressure then we wouldn’t get anywhere at all. But nevertheless, it stopped being fun as a project to work on, and so I stopped working on it.

Pressure is by no means a bad thing: it’s just a thing, and things are used for good or bad, for great things or poor ends. With a bit of reflection, I realised recently that the problem with the situation – and the books – was me. We’re not surprised by that Nathan, I hear you mutter, and neither am I, but I forget from time to time that I am my own worst enemy, and that that enemy is a saboteur by nature.

On this occasion, the enemy was supplying bad pressure:

  • The last book wasn’t that good, this one will be even worse.
  • You’re not like those other writers, you know, the good ones.
  • You need this book to be good. You need it to be loved.

With pressure like that, the end could only come in one of two ways: a book which I was never happy with, or an abandoned project. I think, on this occasion, that I chose correctly.

Isn’t A Blog Supposed To Have Writing And Stuff?


A combination of things have meant that I’ve not been maintaining this space as regularly as I have in the past. Mostly due to focusing on other projects and getting things in order for the rest of this year. The kind of work that I do can have a certain seasonality to it, and my diary is pretty jam-packed for the next six or seven weeks.

I do plan to post something once per week or so from now on, but the topics will be quite wide for now. While I decided to stop a writing project that I had been working on (which might be the subject of a blog post of its own), I have not stopped writing. At the moment the ideas are fermenting away: at a certain point this mixture of thoughts will explode I’m sure, and I’ll be on my way towards my third book!

Until then, take a look back through the archives, get ready as the 50th episode of the Viva Survivors Podcast is coming soon, and I’ll be back soon with weekly posts.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Seven Years

I often think about my PhD as being one of the defining things that I’ve done with my life (thus far). It was a huge deal, doing research in that field, and I know that it’s something that has set me up for the rest of my life – good or bad!

But it was actually a long time ago now. For me, perhaps because of the kind of work that I do, it feels like it was much more recent, but I woke up today and realised that I’ve been in business for seven years now.

Twice as long as my PhD.

Like my PhD, it’s not what I thought it would be at the start, I’ve learned a whole lot of things that I never would have imagined. I break my working life up into smaller projects, but unlike the PhD I have no deadline for when this job will be done. It’s changed (most recently, the business became a partnership between me and my wife), and it will continue to change.

I love what I do. I grew into this job, thinking “I wonder…” and where I am now is completely different from where I was at the beginning. That’s no bad thing. I wonder what I’ll do next… Any ideas?

If you have been, thanks for reading.

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Summer Experiments Revisited

Just over two months ago I wrote a post where I talked about my plans for the summer. I would be blogging less, and on different things, and I’d be doing that because I had a writing project that I was super keen on! I was going to change the world! I was young, the world was good and nothing was going to get in my way!


Well, what actually happened was I went on holiday for a week, came back, looked at what I was writing and fell head over heels out of love with it. I thought that the writing itself was alright, but I wasn’t sold on the overall project any more. It didn’t sing to me. And similarly for the alternative blogging that I was thinking of doing on here, I just didn’t have the heart for it any more. I liked the concept, but wasn’t sure about where the execution of it was going. I guess, maybe it didn’t need to be going anywhere in particular, but still I just wasn’t feeling it.

So I did something completely different: I started a role-playing game business.

On YouTube: Preparing for the PhD Viva

In the last post I talked about going down to London for the day in order to meet Emma Cole and film a video for her vlog. We chatted for the best part of an hour, and now Emma has edited it down to the best bits. You can follow this link to watch it on YouTube, or click below the more tag to see where I’ve embedded it.

It was lots of fun to make this, and I know that in the few days that it’s been up so far a lot of people have already seen it, which is great. If you watch it and you have some questions or comments then get in touch – and be sure to drop Emma a comment or thumbs up on her channel!

A Trip To London

Last Thursday I went down to London for the day. It wasn’t for sightseeing – thank goodness as the Tube was on strike – but to see Emma Cole who does the PhD Vlog, and chat with her about viva prep and other related things!

It was great to meet up with Emma after watching the final month of her PhD (leading up to submission) and after chatting with her via Twitter for a little while. I don’t want to say too much more about the trip, as the main output of it isn’t finished yet: Emma and I filmed a video for her vlog about the viva and viva prep!

Interesting Things, August 6th 2015

It’s a long, long time since I’ve written a post for this blog – I deliberately took time off to focus on other projects (more on those soon), but today I want to share a couple of links to interesting things.

We The Humanities, curated by Emma Cole – all this week We The Humanities is being curated by Emma Cole, who recently produced a daily vlog about the last thirty days of her PhD leading up to submission. Emma has some interesting things planned for this week, and on Thursday – tomorrow! – I’ll be headed down to London to film a vlog episode about the viva and viva prep with her, as well as doing a Q&A on viva things with her. Check out the Twitter accounts above for more details.

Extremely Useful Notebook Organizing Hack – a title that does what it says on the tin; I’ve recently been cultivating a SANE habit of starting the day by recording a page of ideas in a little notebook, but that hasn’t quite hit the productive highs I’m aiming for. I think that having a more substantial notebook for idea development might help, and organisation-wise this might just make the difference.

20 misused English words that make smart people look silly – I’m going to print this and stick it in front of my desk for when I get my writing groove back…

10 tips for more concise writing – …and I think I’ll be sticking this next to it.

Explaining graphic design to four year olds – this article delighted me in a number of ways. First of all, I liked the approach and the results that the author took; it made me think about design and what it is, as it’s definitely a component of my work, and perhaps I need to recognise that more and think about how to apply it. But it also made me think about my work and the work of a lot of people I meet: researchers. How would you explain what you do to a four year old? My daughter is fast approaching two, and her language is really starting to come along – although the phrase “Chocolate biscuit please daddy please!” is clearer than some others – I have no clue what to say to her when she is a little older.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that if I can find a way to explain what I do to a four year old, then perhaps I’ll have figured out what I do too…

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)


Summer Experiments

Through the end of July and August, when few of my clients want me to deliver workshops, I’ll be working on a new writing project – which I’ll announce properly some time in the next week! I need to produce about 35,000 polished words by the end of September in order to hit my goals, and have a series of first draft milestones spaced out over the next six weeks.

Throughout a big chunk of this time I’ll be writing most days about PhD matters – and so I think here on this blog I’ll take the opportunity to do something a little different as a creative outlet. I’ll still be writing something PhD-related, but it may be more of a piece of creative fiction rather than the non-fiction that I’ve been writing for the last year. I have a couple of ideas of the directions that might take and it may draw together some of my other interests as well.

Summer is a good time for experiments: I’d rather be cold than hot, but sunshine boosts me a lot! I feel like I can get a good routine going. I also know that there is going to come a point where I think “I need to be out there delivering workshops…” but I wonder if there is maybe something that I can do about that…

Anyway! Stay tuned over the summer for fiction, of a sort. A few more weeks of PhD musings and ideas.

What experiments might you try over the summer?

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)