October 31, 2012

#AcWriMo 1: the warm–up

Last week I blogged about #AcWriMo, or Academic Writing Month, and this is the first of a series of posts in which I'll blog about my experience of trying to write lots of words in not very much time.

AcWriMo doesn't start until tomorrow, but this past week has been all about the warm-up. Just as it would be foolish to embark on a marathon without ample preparation beforehand, so too does setting out on a long writing stretch require some limbering up. Over the last week I set myself the challenge of starting to identify what writing time I have available, how I will best use it, and what goals I can realistically set myself. I've also identified weaker areas where I'm in need of helpful advice!

  • Time: I have 1 day a week for research/writing, and the rest is (most) evenings and (some) weekends. I have a slight cheat-week next week as it's Reading Week. So next week, it's all systems go! But after that I need to pre-plan dedicated writing time each day and look ahead to the whole month to spot the quiet and busy patches.
  • Making best use of the time available: although I have most evenings free, this is absolutely my worst time of day to write. I often work out of necessity in the evening, but mostly on admin tasks that don't need so much thought; I would love to know how people manage to write after a long day at work. One thing I think will be useful for me is not to assume that this is dead writing time and to plan a range of tasks to choose from depending on mood and tiredness. I've trialled this over the past week with mixed results, giving me a better sense of how to set realistic aims for this time; I've also realised that it helps to set defined limits on evening writing time, e.g. a block of an hour, rather than attempt to keep going as long as possible.
  • Making better use of the in-between time: related to the above, I've been trying to make better use of breaks and in-between times (bus journeys, spare hours between classes, time when I first get home) to switch off. If I know I've got work to do in the evening it's tempting to stay "switched on" during these times- checking emails, doing small bits of work, thinking about what I'm going to do later - basically, trying to keep my head in the work-zone. The past week I've been trying the opposite and using this as rest-time... with the result that I feel more refreshed to go back to work later on, and work better as a result. I've been trying various things like listening to podcasts on the bus journey or taking time for a proper break when I get home, but again, I'd love to know what strategies people have for switching off for short amounts of time.
  • Setting goals: AcWriMo guidelines are to declare your writing goals at the start of the month, hence allowing for pre-planning. My priority here is writing my book, and although I have to allow for a couple of other committments which will require writing time, the important thing about AcWriMo is feeling that you're setting your writing agenda for once.

To that end, my main goals are:

  • finishing current book chapter of 18,000 words (currently at 11,000 in very draft form);
  • redrafting and revising next chapter of 15,000 words;

And my additional (necessary) goals are:

  • writing a paper for a research seminar in late November;
  • writing an undergraduate lecture on Great Expectations;
  • writing my 2 blog posts of the month for Journal of Victorian Culture Online.

If you're a Warwick researcher taking part then do let us know, or head over to the AcWriMo sign-up. Happy writing!

- 11 comments by 1 or more people

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  1. Liz Gloyn

    Your thoughts on switching off time are very useful, actually – one thing I’m particularly bad at is getting out of that headspace. I’ve also put my dedicated #acwrimo hour into my regular day, as my evenings are needed for other things – I suspect I’ll be feeling my way about what work does and doesn’t get put off, but this is a helpful way to start thinking about it!

    31 Oct 2012, 11:05

  2. Charlotte Mathieson

    Thanks Liz, glad it was helpful! It’s been useful to give myself some pre-thinking time but I think the real test is still in actually doing it! When are you fitting in a writing hour? I think aiming for 1 hr a day might be more useful than x words a day because the real trick here isn’t how much I write but whether I can commit to more regular writing. And an hour sounds quite do-able…

    31 Oct 2012, 11:24

  3. Rita Domingues

    Evenings are the worst time for me to write – my head is always tired from a whole day at work… Have you tried waking up earlier and using that time to write? That’s what I do now and it works perfectly! My brain is well rested from a good night’s sleep and I can really focus on my writing!

    31 Oct 2012, 11:35

  4. Charlotte Mathieson

    I have considered the early mornings, but I just don’t think I can get up any earlier! I should, however, use some of my morning time better to work out what reading/writing I can fit in throughout the day and what I’ll be focusing on that evening.

    31 Oct 2012, 11:57

  5. cheerful researcher

    I love reading about other people’s goals. Good point about switching off – I’ll often try to read something entirely irrelevant, or perhaps make a phone call to a friend. I’m planning on 2 hours a day, squeezed into work time, so it will be a good exercise in prioritising! Look forward to seeing how you get on .

    31 Oct 2012, 12:18

  6. Jackie Kirkham

    I’m the same in that evenings are not great for original new thinking/writing for me, and also as I am at work during the day it is my time for interacting with my OU students (as well as switching off!). For #acwrimo I think it’s a bit pointless me trying to write during weekday evenings, even if it’s just an hour, so instead I’m planning on using that hour on weekday evenings to do reading/preparation for the more marathon writing sessions (weekends generally). I don’t want to neglect my students and they already get the fag end of my day as it is, but I have to be realistic and think that I could easily spend less time on twitter/facebook in the evening for an hour, get plenty done and not end up exhausting myself!

    I’m not very good at switching off then back on again, so I’ve found that short switch-off breaks in the day don’t work for me. I normally take an hour for my lunch but I’m seriously considering reducing that to 1/2 hr as starting up again in the afternoon is such hard work!

    31 Oct 2012, 13:10

  7. Charlotte Mathieson

    Thanks, cheerful researcher! I think doing something irrelevant is the key here- cooking is another good one for switching off in the evening.
    Jackie, I think that’s a good strategy with using evenings for preparation and possibly what I’ll end up doing as well – part of this is just about keeping your mind on the project so that you don’t have that “getting back into it time” when you next sit down to write. I agree too that one of the most important things is making sure that switch-off time is non-pc based, it’s needlessly tiring staring at a screen so defeats the point of the relaxing time.

    31 Oct 2012, 14:43

  8. Liz Gloyn

    Charlotte, I’ve gone through my diary for a month and blocked out an hour in every work day. I timeblock my weeks on Mondays anyway, so now that time is already saved and untouchable! I can work everything else around my writing for a change. I’ve mainly put it in a morning slot, something like 10am or 11am, but it’s gone into the afternoons because of teaching or meetings when necessary. It feels good to have it under control! An hour was also the manageable block I thought I could safely commit to – if I end up doing more, that’s great, but an hour for the kind of work I want to do (revisions) is substantial enough to get one or two Big Bits done and thus feel satisfaction. Plus Mondays are my research day, so I shall be powering on in those as much as I can!

    31 Oct 2012, 16:21

  9. Charlotte Mathieson

    That’s amazing planning Liz, I like your attitude! I think I’m going to attempt something similar before tomorrow. Good luck!

    31 Oct 2012, 17:03

  10. Caterina Sinibaldi

    Thanks Charlotte for sharing your goals and techniques and for starting such an interesting discussion! it is so helpful to read about other people’s strategies and it’s also comforting to see that we all face similar problems. I have recently started some part-time teaching in a new university and it is challenging to find the time to carry on with research. We all know how teaching commitments naturally tend to take over… One must be very disciplined and organised. I am working on it! Good luck to you all with your goals!

    12 Nov 2012, 12:14

  11. Charlotte Mathieson

    thanks Caterina, and hope you find the time to start writing too! I think sometimes when you’re teaching (and travelling) a lot it can be helpful to take the pressure off yourself to write for a while, but of course that is easier said than done when deadlines are pressing…

    13 Nov 2012, 09:42

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