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AcWriMo in the Alps: Early Reflections by Matt Lawson
Creative Commons photo by Michael CoghlanCreative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan
Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Creative Commons photo by Michael Coghlan

Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.

It’s getting to that time of the PhD. I’ve completed 26 months of a 36 month GTA studentship, and September 2015 is looming as ‘the month the money runs out’.

I’m fairly happy with my progress so far. I’ve ticked lots of boxes on my CV. International conferences presented at, a couple of articles about to be published, a book chapter on the way, ample teaching experience (and a PGCTHE underway) and organisation of a conference at my host institution. However, this aside, the thesis remains the most important aspect of the whole experience. Without the PhD at the end of it, all of the other stuff will seem a little futile.

So — with 57,000 words on the board (out of an expected 60-80,000 at my university) — I gratefully received a scholarship to spend a month in Germany, accessing archives, libraries and any other institutions of interest. My key aim for this month is to get as much writing done as possible, and it coincides rather nicely with #AcWriMo!

There are several questions I asked myself before arriving here. Will the change of scenery be good for productivity? I am, after all, basing myself in the Bavarian Alps for some of the stay. Will the lack of teaching ‘distractions’ help? Will being out of my own country and away from peer support be a good thing, or hinder me?

There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to get stuck in at the deep end. Within 24 hours of arriving, I had opened my laptop and was sat staring at the monster: also known as ‘thesis’. An hour later, I was half way up a mountain with my walking boots on. OK — so maybe not the best start, but I should allow myself a bit of enjoyment, surely? After all, with temperatures of 17C, it was a very late Indian summer in southern Germany. Might as well make the most of it before the snow arrives in a few weeks.

There are two areas I have struggled with throughout the PhD. Loneliness and isolation. Those two things may seem highly linked, but they are separate problems. Loneliness comes with not feeling as though there is anyone to speak to about my research, with a PhD being such a personal and individual piece of research. Isolation came with all of the trips abroad for conferences. While these were excellent for the CV, there were negative sides to jetsetting across the world with only my thesis and presentation for company. Because of this demons I’ve battled with over the past year or so, this month will be a challenge not only academically but psychologically.

So how are things so far in Germany? Well, as I write this, it’s day three and all is well. The sun is shining, and I’ve already managed to add an admittedly pitiful 600 words or so to my thesis, despite taking a hike in the mountains for much of the second day. My targets for AcWriMo are roughly 1,000 words a day, five days a week. This means that by the time I get back to England, I will be comfortably at the upper end of my word count allowance, and working well towards the target of handing in a first draft of my thesis by Christmas.

The archival and library work I will undertake will be vital for tying up loose ends, and I will be commencing this shortly, but it is the writing which must be the priority for this month’s visit. I suppose it’s just a case of sitting down and doing it.

After three days, I feel good, and the month ahead is almost like a clean slate given the hectic 12 months that I have just had. Writing has never seemed more appealing. It’s one thing wanting to write, and another actually doing it though. Wish me luck!


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