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Searching for inspiration

Image credit: Fran Tegg

Students at my Masters writing workshops say that one of the hardest tasks is coming up with an original angle for their assignments. It’s particularly important when it comes to selecting a topic for a dissertation. I always advise students to read widely to gain a broad understanding of the field and to identify any possible gaps in the research that could be filled. We talk about applying previous research to a new problem; comparing and contrasting materials that have never been compared before; or applying grand theories such as feminism or Marxism.

In small groups, the students discuss their strategies for developing a fresh perspective. They often come up with thought-provoking ideas. One student proposed reading an author you totally disagree with to help to clarify your own position, while another said she searched for the viewpoint of the underdog. A valuable strategy is to mull on the issue overnight or use freewriting — allowing the unconscious mind to assist creativity (as RLF Consultant Fellow Heather Dyer explains here

The search for inspiration is familiar to me. As a children’s non-fiction writer, I’m usually commissioned to write a specific book; it’s like being given the essay title. A couple of years ago, I decided to embark on writing adult non-fiction but struggled to find my subject. For me, it was a case of reading voraciously as always and keeping my mind and eyes open to stories from any source. In the end, inspiration came from an art installation related to the Six-Day War in 1967. Bringing my project to fruition in time for the 50th anniversary of the conflict has involved using many of the techniques described in this blog series, including time management, working on voice and tone, getting distance from my writing and eliciting quality feedback. I hope that this year’s blogs have proved as useful to students, academics and other writers as they have to me.

This is the last of this year’s series of Top Tips and What’s Happening? blogs but they will remain available on the RLF Consultant Fellows site. A new series of blogs is planned for autumn 2017.

7 June 2017

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