Tuesday 7 November 2023

Mandy Jarvis, "Moving on Up: Writing a Creative Dissertation"

Since completing a BA in English and History from Leicester Polytechnic way back in 1986, I have worked in a number of different settings including journalism, teaching English in other countries, statutory and voluntary youth services, and more recently in the state education sector. The common thread through all of these careers has been in supporting children and young people from a range of different backgrounds and experiences. My love of reading and writing has remained constant throughout.  

At the end of 2022, I took a leap of faith to pursue my love of literature and left my job as a primary school teacher to embark on the MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Leicester University. My decision to write a creative piece for my final dissertation gave me the opportunity to combine what I had learnt from both the critical and creative aspects of the course, along with my own experiences in education. I was keen to write something that could potentially be of use to children when making the major transition from primary to secondary school.  

My experiences in working with year 6 children (aged 10-11), in particular, had demonstrated to me that this is a key pivotal moment in their lives. For my dissertation, I wrote a set of three middle-grade short stories, Moving on Up, in which I addressed some of the common themes I had identified from my own research and observations, as well as concerns children had shared with me. These included: friendships and fitting in, getting lost, homework, detention and bullying. Each story focuses on the experiences of a young person who has just started at the fictional Riverview Secondary Academy. My rationale was to write stories which could both entertain children as well as providing the opportunity for them to see themselves on the page - and to reassure them that they were not alone in what they might be feeling about moving up to secondary school.    

Advice for students

If you are on the MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature and are in any way considering choosing to do a creative piece for your dissertation, sign up for the Creative Writing modules that are available to you. They will allow you to become more familiar with how the writing process is taught, submitting pieces of work and how discussions are managed. The experience will also expose you to texts on the craft of writing as well as other texts that will help you to become more familiar with different genres and reading as a writer. The two MAs work together really well and it really felt like I got a lot more out of the year by combining both.

Get used to sharing your work with others, however scary it may be, as it is an integral part of the writing process. It is always managed in a very positive and supportive manner and really helped me to begin to get over my anxieties about how my writing would be received.  All feedback is useful.  


Ten tips for writing a creative dissertation

  1. Write about something you really care about and are invested in. It will keep you going through the duration of the writing process.
  2. Read as many primary texts as you can within the genre of your writing.
  3. If you need to meet other people as part of your research, get in touch early. People are busy.  
  4. Start writing as soon as possible.  Things will start to fall into place.  Even if you think it’s useless, it won’t be and there will definitely be a couple of nuggets in there that will dictate where you go next.
  5. Try not to keep going back to re-writing and editing too early.  There’s a danger you’ll get rid of something really good.  Try and finish a chapter or a short story in a sequence so you can see the whole thing before you start to redraft. 
  6. Make use of your supervisor. They’re not judging you. They’re really happy to help you. Be honest and take risks by saying what you’re really worried or thinking about.  
  7. After a tutorial, write up your notes, actions and look up any texts/research that have been recommended to you. I found doing some re-writing straight after my tutorials really productive as it was fresh in my mind and I could see more clearly the changes I needed to make.  
  8. Take down time. Go for a walk or talk to someone else about your idea. It’s in this time that I could see what was missing or didn’t work. Most of my ideas were formed and then reformulated during time away from the screen.  
  9. If you’re struggling to write creatively, read something for your research or reflection. It’ll feel like you’re doing something.
  10. Don’t worry too much about your reflective commentary until you get closer to the deadline. The feedback from your tutorials and the experience of writing your dissertation will already be formulating and dictating what will go into your reflection. 

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