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Neo-Victorian #AcWriMo: week 3

Week three is up, and my #AcWriMo/#NaNoWriMo project is on-track at 36,500 words and counting.

I spent a fair amount of time this week tinkering around with Scalar to try to improve the styling, and I’m increasingly sceptical of the merits of Scalar for digital publishing. It might be useful for people without the time or inclination to produce something independently, but the Scalar 2 interface is currently poor. In the end, I abandoned it and reverted the whole piece back to Scalar 1 in order to get something that was more manageable. In Scalar 2, for example, it proved difficult to change the background colour (because it overlays its grey-and-white page over the top of it) or right-align any text without it intervening into the space left for the annotation tab. The whole structure seems to be under-developed at the moment, so reverting felt like the right thing to do.

I also had to go through the pieces already posted in order to deal with html that followed me from Scrivener. I haven’t used Scrivener for quite a long time, as it didn’t really suit my PhD writing process. Although I still like the organisational structure it gives for chapters and other pieces, which works well for creative projects, for future chapters I’m going to take things first through Atom and do some marking up there, as the Scalar HTML content pane isn’t very friendly for larger pieces (this is one of the few points where the Scalar 2 interface had the upperhand).

In terms of the writing itself, the story is finally branching out from the original, so the amount of creative work required has increased substantially. There’s quite a lot of research to be done, but I’m looking forward to getting the story substantially completed this week, and then getting to work on the framing and final touches. Only 10 days left!


Neo-Vic digital humanities project, week 2

So this is week 2 of #NaNoWriMo, and I wrote last week about how I was tackling getting the digital humanities portion of my project—a rewriting of Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun as though by a young Oscar Wilde—up online. In terms of the actual Scalar presentation itself, there’s still some CSS stuff to do, but here are the first few pieces of the novel, letters and prefatory materials! I’m not hugely bowled over by what Scalar offers in terms of other website presentation, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt at the moment, and Hypothes.is is up and running, so annotations are more than welcome.

This week involved a bigger focused on thinking about content. How would Wilde change this novel, narratively and stylistically? What pressures would his prejudices, concerns, and experiences have brought to bear on Hawthorne’s original story?

As part of examining the style of the original, and thinking about which terms and phrases I might want to include/exclude in order to shift it closer to Wilde’s own, I used Voyant to produce some clouds and other visualisations.

The Voyant site proved a little unreliable. It produced a bunch of default visualisations from Hawthorne’s text almost instantly, but then went into spinning-beachball-of-death mode when I tried to export a simple word cloud. I tried switching browsers, only to a get a server-unavailable error message, and so that was the end of the first effort! It worked better after a quick pause, although I continue to find the multi-paned interface really cluttered. One thing that is definitely coming up for me in this project is that the tools that are available are not necessarily as user-friendly as they could be. That’s something that digital humanities needs to be willing to address—either in terms of training or in terms of the tools that we actually provide for each other—in order to normalise the use of these approaches.

In any event, the visualisations made me feel that Hawthorne’s novel (or at least the first, on which I’m working at the moment) was actually really rather boring! The predominance of “said”, both in word clouds, the link visualisation, and in co-locates analyses was just staggering, so I removed it (as well as “chapter”). Still, there were some few phrases that repeated (but only at a low frequency of two occurrences each) that caught my eye:

  • “On the edge of a precipice let us”
  • “At the foot of the precipice”
  • “Caught it in the air and”
  • “Foot on the head of his”
  • “Himself at full length on the”
  • “In the bowels of the earth”
  • “Of the palace of the caesars”
  • “One of the angles of the”
  • “The door of the little courtyard”
  • “They had now emerged from the”

I’m still trying to determine whether I want to conduct a comparative analysis of Wilde’s style based on his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, or a wider corpus, perhaps focusing more on the earlier works. At the same time, I need to produce a narrative that Wilde might have found compelling, or at least amusing and worth telling. It’s difficult to focus on these two components simultaneously, so this next week is definitely going to be content-focused. If I can establish a strong new narrative, then hopefully much of the style will come with that, and small tweaks can be made later on the basis of some of these macro-analyses.


Acwri tools (old and new)

I’m rather relieved that in the deepest recesses of August, I have finally found enough time to escape from work, decompress, and get properly stuck into PhD work ahead of the autumn term. As an ‘off-campus’ part-time student, I will be working on my own over and above the usual experience of a PhD student. Whilst that was true of my MA too, a PhD is rather different in scale and scope. At the moment I’m not anxious about it, but I am conscious of needing to do some groundwork now to make the most efficient use of the resources I have — included my own time — later.

Some of this is practical. I have yet to quite figure out how I’ll address my library needs (membership of The London Library is a luxury I don’t think I will be able to continue to afford, quite literally; on the other hand, the university campus is several hours away by train…). I have yet to have a detailed conversation with my supervisors about exactly what they will expect from me in terms of ‘face time’. I know that work commitments mean that I will struggle to do very much in the autumn, so I hope that I’m on the right track in terms of my preliminary work this summer.

Some of this is also exciting, though. I have an opportunity now to try to set up a process that will serve me well over the next few years, particularly in terms of writing tools:

  1. I’m still using Scrivener, which I used for my MA, but I’m finally starting to make better use of its tools because I’ve had a moment to think clearly about structure. I have folders for all of my readings: primary (fiction); primary (non-fiction); ‘pre-primary’; and secondary. I have a serious number of sub-folders for each author and specific works, within which I have PDFs, imported webpages, links to sound files (for references to lectures by Foucault, etc.) and jpegs of related paintings and sculptures. Being able to include the PDFs means that I can now do a lot of my readings from within Scrivener, making it even more of a one-stop-shop. 
  2. I have finally gotten to the stage where I feel like Zotero will be helpful. It is a bit clunky, and it is harder to organise citations in the same way that I can organise texts in Scrivener. Given that I’m working with a lot of obscure texts, I’m finding that even when I have ISBN numbers, they don’t necessarily exist in the databases that Zotero uses, so I’m entering a lot of things manually. I know it’ll be a kludge and still take me a long time to clean up the bibliography, but I think it’s going to be more efficient than trying to keep my bibliography up-to-date any other way. 
  3. I also have a new to-do list keeper: Wunderlist. I have a work, research and personal to-do list, and the app syncs across all of my devices, including my laptop. It’s a much more efficient system than typing out a to-do list in Evernote! It also allows me to structure my time more successfully than blocking out chunks of time on my calendar, which I do at work, but which I find to not be a very responsive or flexible structure.

The layered and multimedia nature of my Scrivener project has also led me to wonder whether I should think about producing a digital thesis.

One of the academics I follow on Twitter (Lee Skallerup, @readywriting) tweet about an interesting new authoring tool, Scalar, which aims to provide a platform for writers (academic and not) to create interactive, multimedia publications. It is pretty new, and the website is not fantastic at the moment (resemblances to Wikipedia are striking). Still, I think it is pretty interesting. My thesis will focus on how aesthetic responses to art-objects are coded in poetry and prose fiction, and it would seem logical to try to produce something that can juxtapose the written art-objects I am analysing with images of the art-objects to which the authors are responding. Given how effective Scrivener is as a tool for collecting my sources and structuring my thinking, however, I suspect that any Scalar project would be more of a restructuring of a finished thesis, which misses the point… Still, I’m giving it some thought!

Halloween NaNo jitters…

NaNoWriMo starts in around two and a half hours now, and oh dear, I’m thoroughly unprepared! I started filling out the pre-formed Character sheets that Scrivener comes with, but I didn’t get very far. I kept thinking that I had a little while yet, but I don’t anymore, and it’s not even as though my novel is going to be plot-driven, so I can’t write action until I settle in. I fear that tomorrow’s contribution is likely to be a lot of sentence fragments describing character development and plot markers, and hopefully over the weekend I can get together something that resembles a plan.

I think this hasn’t really been helped by the very interesting article I stumbled upon on the NaNo forums about creating characters…. If only I’d stumbled across it sooner! 

Writing on trains

This morning I am cutting more or less across the entire country by train, and I always find trains lovely to work or read on. I’ve got Idylls of the King with me, which is the subject matter for chapter 3 (of 3) of my MA thesis, along with multiple printed and annotated versions of the Intro and other chapters, and… a pen and paper!

My laptop is in my bag. When I did my undergrad thesis, I was laptop-centric, and when I was in my secondary literature note-taking phase, Scrivener and I were best buds. Now that I’m trying to write, however, I seem to need the paper and pen approach. It may be because there are ten million other distracting things on my laptop (although Scrivener’s editor view helps a bit with that), or just because there are many tens of thousands of words of notes in Scrivener that mean I can’t see the wood for the trees. Still, I find it a bit odd to have all these gadgets (this post is being written in an email on my iPhone), and yet boil things down to some thin-ruled paper and a black biro!

I’m making summaries of the key bits of the poems for my analysis, anyway, so I can work from three sheets of paper and not 350 pages of it! I might do a post on the rest of my madcap, ill-advised writing strategy later.