“You have to do the work. Tired, angry, worried or overwhelmed: You need to write. You have to work in the midst of your complicated life. There will never be a perfect time to write the book bubbling within you. Sometimes you just have to work at the big things while the little ones pile up around you.” (p. 6)
I would like to take the time to explore Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon: Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it) from the perspective of a PhD student. At the start of a new year and at the beginning of many new ventures in writing, this book has provided many timely pieces of advice. The merits of the Melander’s book for the PhD student are two-fold: First, Melander sets out to disabuse any potential writer of every excuse that one could possibly think of for delaying, procrastinating or otherwise sabotaging the decision to write. As I’m sure we can all agree PhD students are serial offenders in this regard. Second, the book sets out a veritable arsenal of tools for shaping and creating a book-length piece of writing, many (although not all) of which are highly relevant for PhD writing. The book shames the tardy writer into action while simultaneously encouraging strategies to ease the strain of writing. It is a toolbox full of useful devices for writing, some highly relevant to the academic, others less so.
During the month of November of last year, the PhD2published community embraced AcBoWriMo (Academic Book Writing Month for the uninitiated) with great gusto, featuring a series of blog posts and a vigorous #AcBoWriMo tag on Twitter. As part of the experience, Charlotte presented us with a series of four posts based around Write-A-Thon (i ii iii iv), each of which I highly recommend that you read. As you will apprehend, the book is extremely good at seeking out excuses and stripping them away, anticipating your paranoia and soothing it, pre-empting your mistakes, correcting your mistakes, anticipating your confusion and providing answers. Writing is an inherently uncertain endeavour, and yet Melander’s confidence in the power of human motivation provides many useful strategies for boosting one’s writing. The blurb promises to teach the reader how to start out well prepared, maintain their pace and bask in their accomplishment.
Although aimed at anyone interested in writing any kind of book and inspired by the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) initiative, Write-A-Thon has several virtues that recommend itself to the graduate student, early career academic or seasoned academic in need of motivation and inspiration in the face of a writing project. This recommendation turned out to be highly convenient, for it helped me write this review. I turned (not without a certain amount of irony) to the first section of the book I was to review, entitled ‘Attitude Training: Get Rid of the Excuses’ (pp. 9-25). It helped;
a fact to which the existence of this review can attest. Melander always seems to have something to say to the PhD student, a category of writers constantly plagued with motivational problems and doubts. We all need a constant stream of encouragement and exhortations to write when struggling with a thesis deadline. The section ends with a section on the healing power of writing, reminding us that writing need not be a chore. As Melander puts it, “Write now, get healthy!” (p. 25). On the topic of health, the PhD student will also be drawn to a section entitled ‘Life Training: Schedule the Marathon’ (pp. 103-129) in which the reader can find useful advice on shaping one’s writing environment, measuring one’s progress and maintaining one’s schedule.
Melander offers a great deal to any PhD student faced with one of those inevitable ‘crunch time’ moments when there appears to be far too many words to write and not enough hours in the day in which to write them. Open Write-A-Thon on any given page and you will find a tool to write coupled with games, tricks and strategies to avoid commonly encountered pitfalls in writing. In the second part of the book, entitled ‘The Write-A-Thon’, the book schools the reader in the avoidance of writing phenomena such as ‘Monkey Mind’ (p. 138). Although a great deal of the material in this section is perhaps more suitable for fiction writing, it covers many problems shared by all writers regardless of background. This was a refreshing dose of perspective, for it reminded me that all writers, any writers, experience these problems regardless of what they are attempting to write. The final section of the book, entitled ‘Recovery’ (pp. 202-218), contains some general information about revising your writing and pitching it to a publisher. Whereas the PhD student would perhaps be better served by the more specific advice in ‘How to Publish your PhD’ by Sarah Caro, there is some good common sense information in this section that should be of interest to the PhD student.
In summary, Melander’s book contains much of interest to the doctoral student in need of strategies specifically tailored to the purpose of writing a great deal in a very short amount of time. Melander functions as a writing guru and a source of moral support in equal measure. Although the timeframe and the nature of the project proposed by the NaNoWriMo style project of the book differs from the PhD experience, the reader will find that Write-A-Thon has a great many features that will appeal. I will leave you, as the book does, with a piece of advice that we should all keep in mind.
“And so, dear writers, the journey is not over. You have finished one race. Be proud and happy for what you have accomplished. But know this: You have more races to run, more books to write. Take a break, celebrate, and begin again!” (p. 219).