December 05, 2012

#AcWriMo 4: the end

#AcWriMo has now come to an end, so it's time for the traditional round-up post of what I achieved, learned, and changed as a result of the month. I can start by saying outright that I didn't meet all of my goals; in fact, I only got about half way there. I did, however, know from the start that these were highly overambitious, and I did write an awful lot more than I would have managed otherwise, and also achieved goals that I wasn't expecting to meet.

So first, the goals. My writing total for the month was 26000 words, which breaks down as:

  • 14,000 words of a chapter - not quite complete, I stalled because I had a substantial amount of reading for the final section which I hope to now complete this weekend.
  • As a result, I didn't start on the chapter 2 redraft I had planned, but I rescheduled this to coincide with article revisions on similar work that are coming in over Christmas.
  • 4000 word research paper - which took longer than anticipated, but has provided more ideas than I expected for my chapter 3 redraft, so progress on that will now be quicker.
  • 7000 word lecture - which again unexpectedly involved some useful research for the book.
  • 2x 1000 word blog posts - one planned, one not!

I'm happy with this progress, and more importantly I've found that it's useful to set and review targets over a month-long period in this way: not only have I gained more sense of achievement from working towards regular writing goals, it's also a good way to get a sense of how and why some targets worked and others don't, and of what can truly be acheived in the course of a month. Setting targets over a month, and then breaking that down into weeks, days, and even hours, helped me to be both more ambitious and more realistic about what I can achieve.

So the first thing I'm taking away from AcWriMo is planning my writing month-by-month as a way of focusing on more concrete, realisable targets. At the same time, the above goals make clear that being flexible is crucial; we can never entirely predict where a piece of writing or research will take us, and that's natural. What was important about having the overall AcWriMo structure in place was keeping the end-goal in sight, and being realistic about how I could still have a solid outcome from the month whilst adapting to the changing needs of my research.

photo.jpgAnother significant outcome of the month was my time management of writing time. Knowing that I had to meet regular writing goals made me much more reflective and organised about how I could best use my time effectively. I've become better at identifying potential writing time-slots during the busy stretch of my working week, but equally important is reflecting on what will be the best use of that time - I haven't actually managed much daytime writing but have better organised my admin and email-based tasks, which has a knock-on effect later in the day for freeing up longer writing slots. Some days I took time management to the extreme, organising a whole day around pomodoro slots (as in the picture to the left); whilst I couldn't maintain this on a daily basis, a couple of days of pomodoro-ing proved good practice in terms of more sustainable time management strategies.

So if I wasn't writing in the daytime, when did I write? Well, I managed to reclaim evenings for writing. As I reflected in my first post, I'm no night-owl and have always struggled with writing after work. This month I charged myself with the task of not assuming that I won't get anything worthwhile done, but also not expecting writing miracles to happen at the end of the day: just sit down, write, and see what happens. A key way towards this was to set myself a short, achievable writing time of 45minutes (rather than attemtping to keep going for as long/many words as possible) and then see how I was feeling at the end of it. Some days I did little more than dabble in a few paragraphs, others I wrote substantial amounts. Although not every day was amazingly productive, what I did find is that daily writing really is beneficial and even just a few words of redrafting is useful in keeping focused on the task in hand.

Finally, AcWriMo wasn't just about the month itself, it was also about reshaping my writing routines to create a sustainable habit and all of the points I've outlined above are things that I'm taking forward into December - and beyond that, into 2013. Of course all of these changes are things that I could have done at any time without the structure of AcWriMo, but it helped enormously to have a supportive #AcWriMo community giving encouragement, advice and ideas for better writing habits, and to see others achieving some impressive writing feats was also motivating and inspiring. As an ECR in a non-research position, it was also incredibly useful to be part of a community where my writing and research goals mattered in a small way, even if I was still ultimately only accountable to myself. Although this will hopefully continue on Twitter throughout December it's also something that I hope we can continue at Warwick, for example with future Shut up and AcWriMo sessions.

So thanks to Charlotte Frost of PhD2Published for organising #AcWriMo and well done to all who took part! You can also read the Storify of "Learnings from #AcWriMo" part 1 and part 2, and check out the PhD2Published website for many more useful writing tips, as well as the small series that we've run on this blog.

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