Writing is one of those things, like going for a swim or having sex, that can sometimes seem like a good idea, something I want to do and that I love but just at this moment a bit too much of a faff, requiring more time, focus or equipment than I currently have to hand. Yet, if I do manage to fit some in, I then feel so much better and more productive in all areas of my life.
Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo) is one of the things I use to help me write more. Every November, academics around the world, hosted by PhD2Published, form a public online support group. New academics, gnarled veterans and everyone in between signs up with their own writing goals to the PHDometer app and commits to following the six basic rules:
- Decide on your goal. You might count words, hours put in or projects achieved – it’s up to you. But try and push yourself a bit.
- Declare it! Being accountable is key to this working for you. You need to feel a bit of pressure to get the work done.
- Draft a strategy. Don’t start AcWriMo without doing a bit of planning and preparation. Get some reading done, carve out time slots in your schedule to dedicate to writing, even buy your favourite coffee. Sort out whatever you’ll need to write, and get it done now, there won’t be time when November comes around.
- Discuss your progress. OK so being on Twitter and Facebook with us all day isn’t acceptable – you’ve got work to do – but checking-in at certain times is really important! We want to know how you’re getting on? What is working for you and what isn’t? Do you need help? Do you want to share a writing triumph? (You’ll find most discussion about AcWriMo on Twitter using the #AcWriMo hashtag, but if Facebook is more your thing, go there. Or use your own blog to keep in touch.
- Don’t slack As participant Bettina said of the first AcWriMo, you must ‘write like there’s no December!’ If you push yourself, you’ll quickly discover the tips and techniques that work best for YOU and that’ll save you even more time in the long-run.
- Declare your results. It’s great to use the spreadsheet everyday (or as often as you can) to chart how you’re getting on, but even if you can’t do that, you MUST announce your results at the end of the month. Our writing community benefits not only from sharing in your achievements, but knowing what didn’t work and being reminded that, at the end of the day, we’re all human!
So, these rules, they’re more like guidelines…. Actually they are brilliant, even though I don’t manage to keep to them because they help me to understand the category of error I’m currently in. The first year I did this my major issues were 1, 4 and 5:
- I decided on a goal that would comfortably sit in AcWriYear. I pushed the envelope into the next galaxy.
- I didn’t discuss my progress unless I’d had a good day. Bad days were my dirty little (increasingly filthy and huge) secret.
- I had definitional problems with ‘slacking’:
- was covering someone else’s teaching on a writing afternoon slacking? When I wanted to beat myself up, ‘Yes’.
- Was binge-watching West Wing slacking? When I wanted to let myself off the hook, ‘No’ (because.. professional learning, workplace cultures, tangential relevance…)
The second year, I felt I had learned from this and went on to make some other, different and exciting errors in 3and 4:
- I had a strategy. It was so detailed, so perfect: each task broken down into manageable chunks; contingency and resources planned for; it had a logical progressive flow. It intimidated me. Somehow I never quite fancied it. Only when I gave myself permission to ignore it did I get anything done.
- Veering away from the previous year, I didn’t recognise any of my successes. I spent far too much time complaining about being stuck. I wrote a sad and angry poem about it. Yes, I am still basically 14.
Last year, I almost missed it. I had way more teaching than I’d anticipated and couldn’t over-plan – or really plan adequately. At the last minute I put in some very modest goals and had a few snatched hours with my writing. It was rather exhilarating, those stolen moments…
This year I’ll try and make some new and exciting errors, though no doubt some of the greatest hits will be played again. I’ll be on twitter (@respartnersedu) ‘fessing up and celebrating and I hope to see some of you there!
Elaine Hall, Northumbria School of Law