A writer’s warm-up – 87

It is relatively early in the morning for me to be writing. Still, I have a lot of other writing-related things to do today, so I am trying to get a head start on it.

As I am not at my prime this early in the morning, and the mind is still a little foggy, something has occurred to me.

Do you, a writer, have a warm-up routine before starting?

I imagine writers are not the breed to have such a formality, but maybe there are some of you out there that are more structured in the process. I come from a background that is more athletic than academic; in the world of performance, having a warm-up routine ensures you start as close to optimal as possible.

The warm-up is for the mind as much as it is physical; the mind-muscle connection is real. Given this, it makes sense to me that before starting to write, there may be a benefit to do a form of warm-up. Having a quick google, it seems as if it is a concept that already exists. I am surprised that with all the effort I have put into ‘Learning to write’ that I have not come across this idea before.

I suppose that editing makes this idea less relevant, the allure of getting more words on the page is probably more appealing to most people. The type of writing I do lends itself to getting words onto the page and then editing down rather than editing as I go along.

Anyway, the reason I am starting this early is that I have to start putting together another piece of writing. At some point during my PhD, I have to undertake a three-month internship with a non-academic partner. The one I am going to apply for is a government organisation that conducts research into waste management in an attempt to guide policy. Throughout my research, I have referenced their work heavily, so I feel as if I know them quite well.

I have had some email correspondence with one of the lead researchers, and from the emails we exchanged, I am very confident of securing the placement if I can get to the interview stage. To get to the interview, I have to create a POSTnote, I know, I hadn’t heard of one either until I saw it was one of the requirements. It is a document that synthesis the research and relevant literature in an attempt to brief politicians. The documents also become available to the general public. You can see some examples here.

The one catch with this report is that it has to be about something not directly related to my field. Seeing as this is a document only to be used at the interview stage, I feel as if I could be a risky and produce one that is within my field and thus make it easier on myself. However, I know that data is the lifeblood of the company. I will be potentially joining, so I am going to make my piece about AI and agriculture and hope that it sticks.

So, I am off to do some research, this has been a proper warm-up for the challenge to come!

I hope you’re all having a much more enjoyable weekend than I am!

Growing pains – my views on growing an audience

I have noticed that a lot of people have been asking for advice on how to grow their blog over the last few weeks. I am not sure why that all of a sudden people seem to be asking me this.

Maybe I have passed a certain threshold of followers that has given me blogging credibility and people now see me as someone who knows what they are doing?

What I think has happened, is that many people have started blogs in January and seen that it is very difficult to actually get anyone to look at your work. So, they have started to do what any practical person would and are trying to gather information as to how to build an audience.

Well, I will address this again, but only briefly as I have addressed it many times. The first thing you need to understand is that after you put up your post on WordPress or any other platform, there will be a brief window of time where it is visible in a public space – e.g. reader. After this, it gets buried by everyone else posting stuff.

If you are writing about stuff that is of general interest, a post about how adjectives work, for example, there is a chance of getting some traffic via a search engine, but it will be tiny. I wrote about nouns once and now if you type ‘thematically meandering’ into google on the first page is that post – I have no idea why.

Presumably, if that post is high on googles rankings you would expect that post to be viewed more than others: it isn’t.

So, you’re not likely to get many people who stumble upon your blog; you’re going to have to go out and get people!

Marketing isn’t a massive Industry by happenstance. Read their work, comment on it, like and share etc. They may do the same for you, and you can grow from there. What I am trying to tell you is that it is a lot of work to build an audience, and you should probably spend a decent portion of your time marketing.

I attended a course once that was part of a scientific program, it had a lady there talking about social media and influencing – so we could better communicate our work. She said you should spend around 10 % of your time on marketing, and after this year of blogging, I tend to agree.

The Utopian dream of writing a blog post with your coffee in the morning, posting it online and having everyone read it and even make money from it is an utter fantasy! And we should all be embarrassed to have even thought like this.

It is no less passive than any other form of employment, and it is a lot of hard work! Sorry to ruin your fantasy, but isn’t that always the way?

Normal programming will resume next week.

Update: I will add useful links here as and when I find them.

19/8/19 – I have realised that people have been re-posting their old posts. When they appear in the reader feed they often have hundreds of likes and comments. I had no idea how they are doing this until now. They use a plugin for WordPress that automatically re-posts for them. However, there is a way to do this manually. If you look at any of your posts and then click on the ‘document’ tab and look at the bit where it says ‘status and visibility’ you can see when it was published and change it to a time in the future. Then it will be re-posted at that time. Here is a link as to why you might want to do this.

Go here for all your WordPress search engine optimization needs

Do you know what you want to do with your life? – 72

Well, for those of you that have been following my recent posts, I have relatively exciting news for you: I remembered to order coffee this week.

I certainly needed the exogenous boost this week as it has been physically exhausting. It was a combination of long days working in the lab and extra training runs. I have added in an additional 5 km a week in my training as I have a half marathon next Sunday.

I have been accustomed to not having any breaks when I am working in the lab. Most of the time I don’t need them as I am only working for a few hours at a time, and then I go home and do some office work. This week, however, I have been running a few experiments at the same time which means I am working all day, and as I do not normally work all day in the lab, I am relatively unfit. This is my guess as to my tiredness; it could be something completely different of course.

I was so tired that last night I did not go out for drinks with my colleagues, I binge watched Ricky Gervais’ new Netflix series ‘Afterlife’. It was definitely worth a watch, and I felt as if there were lots of subplots I was missing – something that might be picked up with a second viewing.

Periodically, whenever I have a study going on – which is six months of the year – I have to go into the lab on a Sunday. I have to do this because the timings on one of my experiments mean I have to evaluate the results 48 hours after I set it up. As one of the days where I take samples is a Friday, I have to go in on a Sunday.

All I have to do is record the results, and it only takes a couple of hours, but It still means I cannot go away for a weekend during these six months. This is something that probably would not happen If I had a regular job; however, the fact that I occasionally have to come in on the weekend is a price I am willing to pay for a relatively free life. Every time I think being a PhD student is tough I remember the days where I worked in a warehouse, and am instantly reminded that my life is far better than it was, and where I could end up if I stop trying.

The reflection on where I could still be, the warehouse, is something that was brought up in a recent phone conversation with an old friend – yes, remember talking to people by voice? He has a 1st class degree from a good university, but is still struggling with that universal problem ‘ what shall I do with my life?’ I am becoming more and more convinced that for most people there is no answer to this question. Most of us drift through life choosing the best path we have available at the time, or at most trying to stack the odds toward a path we might like.

To those lucky few that genuinely know what they want to with there life from a young age and actively pursue it, I am envious. Although, I imagine there are negatives that I cannot see.

Learning the hard way – 71

I have done it again; these words are coming from the mind of an un-caffeinated coffee addict. Once again I have failed to inform my partner, who handles our online shopping delivery, that we are low.

I feel quite absent-minded and uber susceptible to distraction, but I will get through this post even if I have to run to the closest coffee shop.

This week, I had a meeting with one of my funders which is the head of the agronomy section of a major premium retailer here in the UK. As with all things we consider with high importance, they are usually far less of a moment than we had imagined, and this meeting was no exception.

We had lunch in the senior common room, and then I gave a presentation about all of the work I had done over the past year. Contrary to the persona my subconscious had given to this person; they were not a corporate dragon whose sole purpose was to ridicule and take away my funding. They were an ordinary functioning member of society who was a nice, encouraging person like many of us.

So, another week has passed, and it was relatively drama free. It has just occurred to me that I should have hyped up the details of this week’s events for storytelling purposes. But that just wouldn’t be me, I am trying to give a more honest and accurate account of what is happening, plus it is easier to write like this.

I did have one legitimate drama this week. For one part of my experiments, I measure colour changes in crops over time. I do this as it can be useful in assessing disorders with the crop. I do this by taking images and then analysing them with software.

For the first time in my life, I had a drive fail on me. When I went to load my images onto the computer, the images were not on the SD card. This is a disaster as I cant just re-take the images as time is essential with this experiment, so the conditions have changed since imaging. Re-taking the images is not an option.

When I put the card into the computer, I can see that the amount of space available is consistent with the amount of space that there would be given my images were still on there. So I know that they are still on there I just have no way on accessing them.

I ended up on google trying to find a solution. After a few hours, I found a program called photorec, and my mind has been blown. Not only did I recover 80% of the files, but I have also learned a valuable lesson as to how computer memory works.

When you delete something, it is not actually removed…

What actually happens is that it becomes un-allocated and therefore it can be written over by new information, but until this happens all the information is still there. This allows us to recover some files if they are deleted by accident, but if the drive got into the hands of someone with malicious intent, the things we though we had deleted might well be accessible.

I have since learned that to be really secure when you’re getting rid of a data drive you should run a program that writes junk data over the entire drive to ensure the deleted data is no longer accessible. There are many programs that will do this for you with the most recommended being called ‘boot and nuke’ which I quite like the name of.
That was my drama. A potentially catastrophic event, with respect to my experiment, was avoided and I learnt a valuable lesson. I am always wondering why I have to learn things the hard way, but I will be slightly less harsh on myself this time as I am not sure how I could have prevented an SD card failing.

All the best,

See you next week.

Mental resilience through increased stress – week 70

My to-do list is peaking at the moment. I have come to the beginning of what is potentially going to be a couple of unusually busy weeks.

But first, I need to tell you something about my state of being. I had my first ‘proper’ boxing class yesterday afternoon, and I am still feeling the effects of it I think. I am very lethargic today and quite spaced out mentally.

We were partnered up and were practicing the blocking of very light shots to the head; after a hundred or so punches, even with light punches, you still feel a little dizzy. It was very good fun though, so I shall be continuing with it; however, I do not wish for the level to rise more than light punches as I need my brain cells!

I am off to play a round of crazy golf in Oxford shortly; I hope the boxing won’t affect my game!

The primary reason as to my upsurge in busyness is that I have to start a new trial on Monday, which involves me driving to pick up the samples. When I moved to the city in which I currently reside, I got rid of my car as it was an unnecessary expense. So when I do need to travel, I have to organise a hire car, and as organisation is my enemy, it can get quite stressful.

It is not stressful in itself, but when you combine it with having to speak to suppliers etcetera to arrange delivery, the stress adds up. Another added factor is that I don’t know exactly what time my samples will be ready for collection – this adds extra tension as I have a time limit in which I have to return the car. This whole process hinges on several people that are not me which causes more stress than I would like.

I do feel that the more times I have done this, the more relaxed I am becoming about the situation, so there is a kind of progress I suppose.

On Tuesday, I have an even more stressful day as I need to take measurements from the samples all day. At lunchtime, I have my Industrial sponsors coming for a meeting, where we have to discuss the project. It is going okay in my opinion, but it is always nerve-racking having to present to someone that is giving you money! Even though it is an excellent learning opportunity, it is always to difficult to see it like that. What it actually feels like is an interrogation.

So, if I can through the first few days of this week without any dramas I will be much more relaxed! So far, nothing has gone catastrophically wrong with the project. I am aware of the gambler’s fallacy, but I still have that sense that a catastrophic event is due.

In the end, I expect it to be quite a normal week; I expect it will more enjoyable than normal, but all the possibilities of how events could deviate toward the negative are hard to control!

See you on the other side!

A malevolent cuisine

I have come to enjoy the non-writing aspects of blogging just as much as I enjoy learning the craft. Which is why I have decided to feature other writers on my Blog.

The first of which is by Aik Aleksanich who has a masters degree in philosophy and is currently blogging whilst writing his 1st book. The writing is influenced by philosophers such as Cioran, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and, as a consequence, the writing is often dark, pessimistic and nihilistic, but importantly, interesting.

A malevolent cuisine

You don’t even know, you have no idea but it’s growing inside you.

Proliferating like cells of cancer – dividing, spreading, making its presence known slowly but surely, just like death.

It feeds off you and your surroundings, not making sense.

The only thing you do is stare at your screen and type away, letting the blue light ruin your sleep, for one more night.

You can feel that you are full but it’s not the breakfast you had this morning. It’s something else filling you up and you can’t point out what.

Everything was calculated, every aspect of your life you had planned out. Like a recipe of a cake.

1 ounce of melted butter, 2 tablespoons of sugar, misunderstood relations and emotions, unpredicted incidents…do not mix – but whisk them well.

And you did everything you should have but the cake did not rise, just like your life did not work out.

You changed. Even physiologically.

You bloated and became full of melancholy that needs to be freed.

Pregnant with things you couldn’t explain, you developed a taste for misfortune and destruction.

The burning sensation of liquor grew on you. Cigarette smoke became the air in your lungs.

Caffeine, lots of caffeine, like it’s a necessity for your rusted heart to start pumping again- with no milk, no sugar- but you were a sweet tooth back then.

Anyway, you write. Not to tell a story or to get laid. Nor to earn money or make a name. You write to stay alive, to empty yourself so you won’t explode like a balloon filled with too much air.

You blame yourself for forgetting.

The smell of someone, you can’t remember, the touch of a skin or the contours of a face.

And writing, like suicide, frees yourself of your own blame.

You write to keep things alive that are fading away.

You write because you can’t do much else.

Visit Aik’s Blog for more writing, or if you’re cooler than me Instagram!

If you would like to do as Aik has go here!

How do I do this? – 67

Sixty-seven weeks in a row and I still feel as if I don’t know how to do this. What the hell should I write here?

The problem that is incumbent on the blogger is that the format is for relatively small bits of writing to be churned out in relatively short order. Most of us, I imagine, are doing this as a side project and therefore, cannot commit the time required to produce high-quality writing.

Furthermore, if you’re anything like me, you have far too many hobbies and interests that compete for your time. For me, blogging is but one hobby of many; I would say that blogging is approximately 5th on my priorities.

My current method of writing is to sit down in the after-lunch, pre-gym slot and write from the top of my head. I occasionally make notes throughout the week if I have anything I want to include, but that hasn’t happened in a while. I am waiting for that breakthrough where I finally figure out how to write these posts.

Today is the 2nd of February in my timeline, and you will see this in a few months. My plan for the rest of the day is to do a 15k run and then watch the most important rugby match before the world cup. England vs Ireland in the six nations. Come on England!

I have just realised that this is supposed to be a blog about my PhD and I have just been rambling on like a generic lifestyle blogger.

So, at the start of this week, I spent two-days extracting sugars from lyophilised (dried) Rocket. This has become somewhat of a routine measurement, but it does not tell you that much about the quality status of the plant. Generally, after the plant is harvested, metabolism in the plant continues, and sugars are used up for fuel.

By-products from sugar metabolism are used to form various other compounds, such as those involved in defence. As plants cannot defend themselves physically, they often expend a lot of energy doing it chemically – mainly by producing compounds that don’t taste nice to deter predators.

But as I mentioned previously, it is almost useless when assessing the quality of a crop. What it does allow is for comparisons between crops grown during different seasons. Crops that are grown during the summer, generally have more sugar content and are usually of higher quality.

After I had extracted the sugars, I spent the rest of the week dong data-analysis and planning. Unusually, I have found myself in a position where I don’t have any short-term plans. By short-term, I mean to say that I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my week. This is highly unusual for me.

I ended up writing a list of all the events I had coming up, and this included two conferences at the end of the month. Now I have things to focus on and can fill my time. One of the skills I have not yet mastered is the ability to plan for the long term. I have got through life so far, by being what I can only describe as ‘micro-ambitious’. I decide what I want to happen in the next couple of years and try my hardest to achieve that. Most of the time I don’t plan any further than that.

For example, I had no plans as to what I was going to do after my bachelor’s degree. I got offered a job and PhD, neither of which I sought out. I chose the option I liked the idea of the most, and here I am.