writing

Eight Years After Room 524

It dawned on me a few days ago that today is eight years since I started my life as a skills trainer. On September 15th 2008, I registered my business. I was a guy with a PhD in maths, a few ideas about what I might do as a freelancer, but no real clue. This was me:

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My last day in the postgraduate office

I left behind Room 524, my workspace for nearly four years. One day I was working surrounded by interesting people who loved research. The next day I was working alone at the dining room table: What to do? How to start? It seems like yesterday sometimes, and also like another life. A lot has happened in eight years (I got married! I have a daughter!). Work highlights include:

I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people, and I know that I’ve learned a lot along the way. It’s not always easy to be a freelancer. There can be a lot of disappointments. But you can work to your values: it is very liberating to realise that you can step back from something that isn’t satisfying. You can say no to things that you think will get in the way, and say yes to things that excite you or you think can make a difference.

One of the things I like most is the freedom to do fun things, to play. You can do something “just because”. I have thoughts for more little experiments and “just because” ideas; let me know in the comments if you want to hear more.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

Self-Publishing For Academics, out now!

Last week I wrote to say that I had a new book out today, so here it is!

This!

Helen and I worked hard on this for months, and the end result is a compact how-to guide on self-publishing, aimed at academics who are wondering what it’s all about and if it’s right for them. Yesterday, the awesome Research Whisperer blog published a post by us which explored how Helen and I collaborated. This morning Helen has published a blog post that we both worked on, a kind of dual Q&A where we explore the whys and hows of self-publishing and this book.

We’ve been quietly hyping the book on Twitter, as shouting from the rooftops is not quite our thing: still, it was great to wake up this morning to find that our book had made it’s way to the Number One spot in the College & University chart of the UK Kindle Store!

Number1

Self-Publishing For Academics is available now from the Amazon Kindle Store! It’ll be available from other e-book distributors soon, and I’ll update this post with a list of links as and when those links go live. Check out the Research Whisperer post and Helen’s blog for more details. I’m really proud of what Helen and I have produced in such a short space of time, and I hope you check it out and find it really useful too.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

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.

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)

Book Reviews Please!

I Need You!

Have you read either of my books? If you have, would you consider posting a review on Amazon or on your blog? If you do, and send me a screengrab or a link that proves you’re the author, I’ll send you a 50% off code to my books on Payhip – you can either buy a copy of a different book for yourself, or give the code to a friend so that they can give one or both of my current books a try.

Taking A Day Off

Thursday 11th June

I took a day off with my family. It was planned that we would go out to Liverpool to look around the Tate, taking the train whatever the weather, but as it turned out it was a gorgeous sunny day. Sunglasses all around for the three Ryders, and our daughter was especially enjoying the new places that we passed walking along the dock towards the gallery. It was around her snack time when we arrived, excited because this was the first time that we had taken her to a gallery.

We stopped for a cuppa, she ate her rice cake and drank some water…and promptly fell asleep.

On Guest Posts

Unless this is the first post of mine that you’ve read, you’ll know two things about me: one is that I really enjoy writing things (and delivering workshops!) for postgraduate researchers, and the other is that I run the Viva Survivors Podcast. But these are not the only outlets I’ve had for communicating with researchers. In the past I’ve written a few pieces for various publications like the late GRADBritain, the former Vitae “What’s Up Doc?” blog and others. I thought it might be fun to go and look at these pieces – some of which are a few years old now, and share links to them in today’s post. As it happens, because of site restructuring I can’t find the pieces I’ve written for Vitae – if I look on my hard drive I’ll see if I can find my copies and share them soon – but in the mean time I’ve found links to a couple of others that I’ve written or been involved with.

And at the end of the post I want to make you an offer that you won’t refuse!

Why Did I Do A PhD?

I was looking through a folder of writing projects recently, and came across 80,000+ words of things which have not seen the light of day. I originally wrote this piece as the first chapter of a book that had a working title of “Stories from my PhD”. I’ve tweaked it a little to share it here, and I hope you find it interesting!

Why Did I Do A PhD?

I love interesting challenges. For a long time I thought that I just loved the challenge of maths, and maths research in particular. Not knowing something, and not having a handy three-times-a-week class to tell you forced me to accept the realities of research. It’s all up to you. If you don’t know something, it’s your responsibility to find it out. That’s fine. It might be difficult, but if you’re going to do research in any area, that’s what you sign up for.

I kept flirting with the idea of a PhD during my Masters. I couldn’t decide on what area I wanted to do research in though. I ended up doing my final dissertation in knot theory. This seemed like a challenging area. There was just one problem: by the end of my Masters I felt totally burned out by the thought of more maths. I was typesetting and bug hunting day after day and it was driving me crazy.

The PhD was moved to the back burner – I wanted to do it, but maybe I needed to take some time in between. This then posed a second problem: what was I going to do instead?

Recent Writing, Part 3: The What

Last week I published my second book, The Viva: Who? What? How? and as part of the process of publishing I want to spend a little time this week thinking over what that has been like. In my day job, we frequently extol the virtues of “Plan -> Do -> Reflect -> Review” – the cycle for experiential learning. And I also really like that call to arms that has done the rounds a fair bit in recent years, “start with Why”. On Wednesday I explored the Why of writing a book, yesterday I looked at How and today I explore What – which in this case means reflecting and reviewing to see what I’ve got from writing a book this time around and what this means for my future writing.

The What

First of all, the outputs from this project. I wrote a book which clocks in at just under 20,000 words, has twenty-seven chapters plus introduction and afterword, and which is now available from two different places, Amazon and Payhip. In the former space it has already entered the top ten for one of the charts it is registered for, and in the latter I’ve seen great engagement from people who want an alternative to the Kindle. There are no reviews for the book (yet!) but I’m optimistic given the few email responses I’ve had so far.