Start now. The new year is approaching, and many of us are motivated to make resolutions and set goals for 2014. Oftentimes, we find ourselves disappointed when resolutions come up short. Setting a goal is only the first step in investing in your research and writing: remember that it takes time to develop a habit. Take these two weeks before the new year begins and start developing your routine and habit for whatever you aspire to in 2014. By January 1, it will already be familiar to you.
Set tiny tasks. Put a very small task related to writing on your to do list for the day. It’s the guilt-killer: once you get the tiny thing done, you can alleviate your sense of dread that another day might pass without making progress on your writing. Even better, the sense of accomplishment for doing one small thing can compel you to do more. Once you get started, you might end up spending even more time working.
Find some new music. If there’s one space of disagreement among preferences for the writing environment, music and background noise might top the list. A friend who grew up in a noisy household takes her laptop to a bowling alley. Another insists on getting as close to silence as possible. Still another puts on Spanish-language television, even though he’s rather monolingual. The dialogue stops the mind wandering and provides a rhythm without distraction. A few other options: very familiar music you listen to all the time can be evocative (in the days of audiocassettes, I had a mix tape that I named “sanctity songs”). Consider classical, jazz, or electronic music. No lyrics, less distraction. Folk, country, or opera may also suit you. See where the music might take you. A variety of wind chime apps are also available for iPhone or Android. If you prefer, noise cancelling headphones are also widely available.
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I never thought I’d say this, but I have something in common with Cinderella. Not the puffy dress, or the glass shoes. Just that before 12 o’clock is when the magic happens. Obviously my 12 o’clock is noon, and hers was midnight, but let’s not dwell on details.
I’m going to suggest that you have a period of the day when the magic happens and that you need to figure out when it is and make sure you make the best of it. A bit like Cinderella did. Because all time isn’t equal. For Cinderella, everything after 12 o’clock wasn’t worth much – certainly not as much as time before 12 o’clock. Similarly, everyone has times when the work comes easily and times when work is a euphemism for having a word document open behind facebook. Identifying when the valuable time is, so that it isn’t squandered, is really important.
For me the most valuable time is 9 in the morning till midday. I’ve properly woken up and I haven’t yet gotten distracted by lunch. But maybe yours is 7pm till 10, or 2pm till 6pm. When are you at your best? When is it easiest to stay focused?
I’ve learnt recently that if something has to be done, it needs to be done in that magic time. Therefore writing goes into that slot. Not
browsing the internet. Not faux work activities either (emails, conference schedule planning, marking etc.). Only things that are
research and need focus. Why not try for a few days only putting in your magic time things that directly contribute to you publishing a paper or completing the thesis?
The great thing is that this is a quick way to prioritise your day. Figure out when your most productive bit of the day is, then put the
most key thing you need to do in a day in it. Simple. The dregs, emails and lost shoes will still be there when you’re done with the
In the first #acwri live chat of 2013 we talked about a range of things relating to academic writing. Much of the discussion was focused on making plans for the year to come in the form of New Years Resolutions, but from this, lots of interesting tips emerged in relation to how to make 2013 the most productive academic writing year yet. As well as declaring New Year’s Resolutions and plans, we discussed a range of practical tips that can help to improve writing and increase motivation, suggestions were made about how to make the most of a sabbatical and there was also a short discussion about where best to make notes for writing. A selection of the Tweets from the chat are included below:
Remember AcBoWriMo, last year’s experiment in a month-long writing productivity drive? Well, it’s back, bigger and better than ever – but without the ‘Bo’!
The idea hails from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) an initiative designed to turn the whole of November into a month-long write-fest for current or would-be novelists. The idea is that you set yourself the task of writing 50 thousand words in November alone and bingo, you’ve got yourself a whole big chunk of novel! In 2011 I decided academics should give something similar a go and, I can happily report, it went brilliantly!
For AcBoWriMo, I invited people to join me in wearing comfy clothes, drinking a lot of coffee, napping at strange times and seeing how close we could each get to writing 50 thousand words. I admitted at the time that it was an insane target, but that it wasn’t the word count that was the point. Rather, it was a bid to gather people together for mutual support in the, at times, painfully difficult and soul-crushingly lonely task of academic writing. In the last year alone, I’ve watched with awe and excitement as so many academic communities have grown and expanded on social media platforms like Twitter (examples include #phdchat, #ecrbook, #digped, #fycchat with plenty more to be found here). Not to mention that our own AcBoWriMo off-shoot (and collaboration with Jeremy Segrott), the regular live Twitter chat on academic writing, #AcWri, has co-ordinated a huge amount of valuable discussion. Nice work Anna and Jeremy!
So I decided it was worth giving it all another go – with some revisions…
This year’s event will focus on ALL aspects of academic writing, and will encourage participants to set their own (wild) goals. As a result of that, and the strength of the AcWri community, it will be called AcWriMo. Just like Craig David, I copped some flack for the ‘Bo!’ part. Although I never intended to promote the idea that an entire academic book could be written in a month, by calling the event Academic Book Writing Month, it seems I over-emphasised that part. But we still want you to join in on setting yourself some unrealistic targets and fighting alongside us to achieve them.
So, here are the rules for #AcWriMo 2012
1. Set yourself some crazy goals. Try and come up with some outcomes that would really push you beyond anything you ever thought possible. I always said 50,000 words is a bit of a nutty goal for academic writing in one month (it works out at something like 2,500 words a day and that’s just bonkers) but if you’re bonkers, go ahead and set that target. Otherwise, think about how much you are comfortably able to write a day and set yourself the task of regularly exceeding that amount. If you can manage 300 words a day then we want 400, if you can do 1000, then we want 1500 – something like that. Last year, a lot of people preferred setting themselves a time-based goal. They would try to write for so many hours a day or week and often used the Pomodoro technique to count units of productive time. If that’s your thing, go for it! How about sneaking in an extra Pomodoro a day? Or, look at all the writing tasks you’ve got to achieve over the next few months and decide to get a set amount of them done in November. In the US it’s job season, so how about you count your job-letter-writing-time. Or article drafts maybe?
2. Publicly declare your participation and goals. You can do this by adding to the comments of this very blog post, by tweeting using the hashtag #AcWriMo, or by writing on our PhD2Published Facebook page. Being accountable is key to this working for you as a way to push yourself, but if you want to silently take part, at least tell a friend who is likely to hold you to it. [edit: you can now also add your goals to and keep track of your progress with Jenn’s AcWriMo Accountability Spreadsheet - thanks Jenn!]
3. Draft a strategy. This is essential if you’re going to make a success of this. Sitting down to write without preparation is the first step towards being struck down with writer’s block. We’ll be blogging and tweeting lots of ideas to help you, so before you start, work out a strategy for how you’ll tackle your set tasks. For example, establish how much you’ll need to write a day, and on which days you can definitely do this. Offload as much other work as you can, and get in some supplies (we recommend stocking up on decent coffee of course). Think about how you work best and adopt that approach from the start – this means planning everything from comfy clothes to reading sessions.
4. Discuss what you’re doing. 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 imperative! We want to know how you’re getting on? What is working for you and what isn’t? We want you to tell us all if you need help with something but also to celebrate your successes with us too. And nothing is TMI when it’s AcWriMo because that’s the point: sharing!
5. Don’t slack off. As participant Bettina said of AcBoWriMo, you must ‘write like there’s no December!’ But guess what? If you work super hard now, there’s going to be more December to go round. Remember how December usually creeps up on you and suddenly its Christmas Eve and you’ve failed to buy gifts or take time out for yourself. Well, if you put the work in now, there’ll be so much December you won’t know what to do with it all!
6. Publicly declare your results – and please be honest! As a writing community, we’ll all benefit from sharing in your achievements, but it is also good to see what works and what doesn’t. And if you don’t make your targets, you’ll still be achieving the selfless goal of making the rest of us feel more normal – so it’s a community win/win really.
We’re raring to go, we hope you are too?!