Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD. His mid-point AcWriMo reflection follows below.
So – half way through. How are things going? Well, this weekend (Saturday 15th/Sunday 16th) is one I have designated as a weekend off. I will be watching Germany score many goals past Gibraltar in Nuremberg on Friday evening, and then allowing myself a little sightseeing and relaxing on the Saturday and Sunday.
‘What about the PhD?’, I hear you ask. Well, it’s going satisfactorily well! I know that doesn’t sound like I’m dancing around the Alpine lodge in excitement, but I’m content with my progress. Let’s do some number crunching. I arrived in Germany with 57,096 words, and as I go into my free weekend, that has blossomed to 65,281. I’ve worked on ten of the eleven days up from my arrival on 2nd November up to and including Wednesday 12th November, giving me an average of 818 words per day. That’s good going. I was aiming for 1,000, but with my thesis being in a fairly ‘completed’ state, that would perhaps be overdoing it. My realistic aim now is to head back to England with my thesis anywhere in the 70-80,000 range. Whether that is 70,001 or 80,000 remains to be seen, but I’ll be delighted with anything in between. That will give me three weeks before Christmas to edit what I’ve written, print, bind and hand in a full first draft.
What I would also like to mention in this instalment is how I have kept myself sane while I have been here. As mentioned in the previous post, isolation and loneliness are two of the down sides to a doctoral programme which have affected me deeply over the past year or so. I won’t lie: there have been evenings where I have felt these keenly since the beginning of the month, but I have coping mechanisms. One of these, which can only be good news for my mental AND physical health, is to walk ridiculous amounts during daylight hours, and work at night. It seems such a shame not to experience the country I have so kindly been given access to by my funding body, and with the sun going down at around 4:30pm, it seems counterproductive to sit inside pretending to write my thesis while I looking out of the window at the blue skies. I have clocked up countless miles up mountains, down valleys, around lakes and so forth, and have been back in my accommodation by 4:30pm each day to commence 4-5 hours of writing once it’s dark. It’s worked a treat, and my productivity is helped by the fact that for some of the walk, I’m planning what to write when I return!
This weekend off will give me a good chance to try and forget about the PhD (ha!), and clear my mind before the start of the next working week. To be honest, I’d quite like some horrible weather, because then it’d force me to some extent to stay inside and get lots done. At the same time, given what I’ve mentioned above, getting out and about is important. A PhD sometimes causes us to lose touch of reality somewhat, and there’s nothing that screams reality like being up a 6,000ft mountain wondering how you’re going to get down!
Half way through, and my report would read ‘satisfactory progress, but could do better’. Without putting too much pressure on myself, I’m hoping for a decent next couple of weeks to return to England knowing I’ve done everything I could have done to give me the best possible chance of handing a first draft in that I’m both happy and proud of.
‘Write like there’s no December’, is one quote I’ve seen banded around with regards to #AcWriMo. I like that a lot. However, I know that there’ll be a December, and that feeds my Alpine procrastination somewhat…
Gillie Bolton author of Inspirational Writing for Academic Publication gives us some practical and motivational advice.
- Make a timetable and stick to it. Make firm diary commitments (even for sessions as short as 10 minutes) for writing time, and treat them as if they are UNCANCELLABLE meetings. Turn off email completely; switch phone and iPad right off.
- Start writing using the 6 minute dumpª. And CARRY STRAIGHT ON writing. Don’t do any of the other million and one things which take me away from writing. Use the time as if it were a train journey: I have to finish this section by the time the train pulls into Paddington Station (this is how I’ve written this blog post).
- If I get the wobbles, I send my Internal Saboteur back to hell, and invite in my Internal Brilliant Academic Writing Adviser to tell me, amongst other things: ‘You Can Do It!’
- Set myself up for my next session by leaving this writing part way through a section. Either I don’t rush to complete this one, so I can begin satisfactorily by doing so next time, or push myself to write at least notes beginning the next section. This way I never start with that terrifying thing to any writer: The Blank Sheet.
- Don’t allow myself to edit (Phase 3) too soon: focussing on grammar etc when I should be thinking of ideas or structure, is a killer.
- Instead of wasting time trying to work out a research or computer skill – I make an appointment with someone who can teach me (University Library; Apple do brilliant lessons in how to use the Mac; etc).
- When I am really STUCK, I:
- Make a date with a trusted, confidential peer to discuss it with.
- Try going somewhere else to write (cafe / park / bed / …).
- Write a letter to the kindest wisest person I can possibly imagine, asking their advice on my writing. And write their reply myself. This is my Internal Brilliant Academic Writer, or my Internal Mentor. I often ask their advice: they are ALWAYS available.
- Change my type of writing for a while. to 6 minute writing dumpª for example.
a. 6 Minute Dump:
I take pen and paper (seems better for emergencies than keyboard), and scribble for at least 6 minutes whatever is in my head, telling myself NO-ONE NEED EVER READ THIS. I might write anything: our minds do hop about when we let them. If I’m blocked, just the change of focus can unblock, or perhaps I can write about what the block is and explore what to do about it. Sometimes I frantically write about something completely different: clearing out whatever is on my mind (birthday present / a huge row with my partner / … .). Then I reread what I’ve just written and reflect on it in writing.
Now I am much better focussed for academic writing.
Keep things in perspective. So what if you didn’t achieve your goal today. Who cares if you spent valuable writing time on Facebook or went out on the night you’d promised yourself you’d write. These things happen. In fact, sometimes these things happen because we really need a break! If you ditch your writing for something else don’t beat yourself up about it, just see it for what it is: a bit of time out. Feeling guilty about not writing is a waste of your time and energy and it will only make it harder to write in the future. Guilt will gnaw away at your self-esteem and when you do actually get down to writing, you will be filled with thoughts of failure. Keeping a record (like our 2014 accountability spreadsheet) of your progress on a project can really help with guilt because it will keep things in perspective. It will also help you see patterns forming – if there are any. For example maybe there’s a reason why you regularly struggle to write at a certain time.
Say no to people in a way that shuts down negotiation. Many of us just can’t say no. For early-career academics it can be frightening to turn down an offer to contribute to something. We worry that we’ll get a bad reputation or that we’ll skip over something that might be CV gold dust. We say yes through a fear of missing out, a really bad grasp of time management or worst of all, guilt. But if you want to finish that T/D/A/P/C you HAVE to say no and in a way that can’t become a yes, when you inevitably get a second begging email 2 days later. Don’t use language that allows for any wiggle room ‘I don’t think I can right now’ or ‘I’m really over-stretched’, phrases like that are just open doors to a good negotiator! Don’t list the things you have on your plate right now because let’s face it, there’s no standard ‘to do list’ length. Sure you have 100 things to do, well big whoop because the person who asking for your help has 110! Quantifying like this is just a way of not saying no! And certainly don’t counter-offer with a reduced task because that reduced task is going to magically grow over night – and who’s to say that the person asking isn’t already giving you a reduced task in the hope of building on that. Just say NO! Keep it kind, quick and closed! For example ‘Thank you so much for thinking of me but unfortunately I am not able to contribute at this time.’ You know what, copy and paste that exact phrase right now and keep it somewhere handy because you’re going to need it!
Stow your inner critic. Many of us undo our good intentions by letting the critical voice inside take over. We write a sentence, we edit that sentence, we rewrite that sentence and so forth…Try it this way: write as much as you can of what you’d like to say. This will vary from person to person. Personally I like to get an entire draft done before I pick it apart. Other people find this difficult and do better writing a section or a set of paragraphs. Whatever you do, try and complete a substantial portion before you turn to your inner critic to evaluate things. In fact write it and leave it to marinade for a while if possible. Then return to it for a designated ‘editing’ session. Only now should you unleash all that critical power and get that text into better shape. Criticise too soon and you’ll get caught in loop.
Bring it! Being an academic isn’t easy but then, that’s kind of the point. We’re supposed to think really hard, I mean, that’s what we signed on for right? Sometimes this gets the better of us. We all have moments of feeling over-stimulated, overwhelmed or over-stretched. And sometimes we need to seek refuge and and a bit of R ‘n’ R. The rest of the time however you gotta bring it! And what I mean by that is energy and a positive attitude. One way to do this is to try and start everyday with some positivity. Before your feet even touch the floor when you wake up in the morning, take a mental inventory of three things you’re grateful for. Any three things! You might choose people in your life or, if you’re like me, you might choose food! (I’m grateful for Hong Kong pineapple buns and milk tea nearly every day!) Notice how differently you feel when you start off like this, rather than from a state of stress. And notice how it impacts your writing if you sit down with the right attitude.
Get support. AcWriMo is all about building a support team. It’s all well and good having a great PhD supervisor or a lot of fantastic colleagues but they won’t always be there at 2.00am when you’re freaking out about citation styles. The beauty of AcWriMo is that you’ll virtually meet people from all over the world with a range different of experiences and many of those people will be online at 2.00am! Find people to connect with during AcWriMo and continue to nurture those relationships after the month is over. These are your people, treat them well! You might find them supporting and advising you on all manner of academic life. You might even find them inviting you to present your work at their own institution or letting you know about jobs that might suit you.
Gillie Bolton author of Inspirational Writing for Academic Publication gives us some practical and motivational advice.
Dear Academic Writer
Getting going with writing is really hard. I’d find myself at the other end of the house doing something else. Or agonising that it’s impossible.
In order to make myself get on instead of doing other things (tackling every email possible in the fullest possible way), I made myself rules: instead of fiddling about or panicking, I HAD to work through my strategies.
Before this, I had to figure out the process of writing: break it down into workable stages for myself.
Imagining I’m writing publishable words all the time is frightening: they clearly aren’t good enough. If I can break it down into stages towards those fantastic definitive published words, I can allow myself to write much more. So here’s what I worked out:
What the Process of Academic Writing IS
Academic writing worked best for me when undertaken in 3 phases. Only after the last one can I see what my audience will read.
Phase 1: Write for myself. This is where I try to get down what I want to write about, what is significant about it, what really fires me: my ideas, theories. What’s wonderful about seeing it as just a phase, is that it doesn’t matter if my ideas are half-baked, or seemingly unsupported by data as yet. I can write anything at all now, because it will ALL be redrafted, reworked, edited. What freedom!
Phase 2: Write for my readers. Now I ask: Who are you my reader? What, out of all I scribbled in Phase 1 do you want to hear? Why and How do you want to hear it: how can I explain and arrange it so you can grasp it? This is redrafting.
Phase 3: Write for my publisher. Now I check all the grammar etc. Now I rewrite my abstract so it’s clear, punchy, concise, to the point. Now I check all my references and so on. This is editing.
Some people work through these phases until they reach the end, and bingo there’s a publishable paper. Others, like me, get through Phase 2, or even 3, and realise there’s a great chunk missing and have to go right back to Phase 1 to work out what it is and then Phase 2 to address my reader appropriately. Or I find some needs much more than editing and I return to say it better for my readers. Or, my co-author Stephen Rowland found, for example, that he used the word ‘clearly’ when he wanted to persuade the reader it was clear, when he was very far from clear about it: he had to return to Phase 1 to rethink it.
Leaving out any of the phases, or rushing to Phase 2 or 3 too soon can make writing dull and lifeless, not communicating well. Academic writing is a conversation. Working out what we want to say, and then to whom we want to say it, why, and how – is vital.
Now I’ve given you my writing structure. In my next post I will tell you some of the self-advice which glued my bottom to the writing chair.
Organise your time. No matter how much of your time you’re able to dedicate to your thesis/dissertation/article/paper/chapter you won’t get it done if you don’t manage your time. In fact, it’s not about the time you have but the way that you use it. There are lots of ways you can do this. One is to use the Pomodoro Technique and divide your writing day into pomodori (25 minutes of writing 5 minutes of resting). Another is to notice which are your most effective writing hours. For example do you do best first thing in the morning or only after your third cup of coffee? Whenever is best for you, mark out that time for writing and fit in other tasks around it. And don’t over-do the amount of time you dedicate to writing – sometimes less is more if it stops you from feeling burnt out the next day.
Break. it. down. Of course your writing project is daunting if you continue to think of it as a T/D/A/P/C. Instead try to break it down into a set of components. I have started using the free Trello project management software to help me create a workflow of task cards and action columns. You can attach all manner of items to a card including Word and Google Docs, images, check-lists and due dates. You might like to have columns for research tasks such as reading, note taking, writing up, editing, and then pass a topic card (and attachments) through various stages. Or maybe it makes more sense to you to divide up your project into chapter or section columns and sub-section cards. Perhaps you prefer to do this on a Whiteboard or using Post-Its? However you do it, the important part is just to get yourself to see the project as a set of elements and then to see each element in terms of what you’re required to do for that part alone. Once you’re at that stage it is a thousand times easier to start, to keeping working away on each tiny task and, most importantly, to finish (and finish on time because now you’ve seen your work for what it really is – a set of tasks – you’re more capable of allocating the right amount of time to each task).
Set realistic goals. In November for AcWriMo we advocate pushing yourself harder than usual. For the most part this is because it is a diagnostic programme; we believe that if you put in twice the hours (words, projects etc.) you’ll find out what doesn’t work in half the time. Plus we build a support community to spur you on and who doesn’t want to finish their T/D/A/P/C that bit quicker? But in the main it’s important to set goals that you can meet so that you learn to manage your time efficiently and can keep up the momentum. If you repeatedly fail to meet your goals you’ll feel bad about yourself and your writing, you’ll likely have a very erratic writing schedule and, you won’t be able to see what other tasks can be completed while writing is going on (you might even start to feel like you’re failing at everything and that’s not good). Use AcWriMo to find out what is realistic for you in terms of hours or words you can write and stick to that the rest of the year.
Put ya thing down. It often feels like academic writing means like you have to make a strong and definitive statement on something. This is intensified when working on a PhD thesis because you have all sorts of feelings of guilt and self-loathing and have the desire to prove yourself and have something megatastic to show for all that work. But would we ever even open our mouths if we felt this kind of weight on our shoulders. The trick is to think of academic writing as a conversation. Gerald Graff demonstrated this idea in his classic They Say, I Say (even if I prefer the Missy Elliott version). Each time you sit down to write imagine yourself in dialogue with someone. What do you need to say to carry that conversational baton on to the next runner/writer?
Duh! Read something.. It sounds really obvious but you need to have read enough to even start writing in the first place. If you are struggling to write, it probably means you haven’t read enough yet so get back to the books (other information platforms are available) and read some more. Or re-read the texts you’re working with and attain a deeper level of understanding. Likewise, if you find yourself stuck at any point, pick up a book for inspiration. Either look at the content and refresh your thoughts by reconsidering what is being said, or look at the style and see if you can’t jump start you next paragraph by using the same approach. You might even go and read the newspaper, just read something to fill the gap where the ‘omg what the hell am I trying to say’ thoughts are and you’ll be on your writing way in no time.
Honor your ups and downs. Academic Writing Month offers a good opportunity for us to assess the flow of our work in research and writing. If there were no other responsibilities and distractions, it would be far easier to manage daily goals. But there are days when it is difficult to meet the demands of the everyday (deadlines, travel, one’s job, classes to teach or take…along with one’s personal life) and still accomplish writing goals. The crucial response is to honor those difficult days and press on.
As many know from setting new year’s resolutions, it’s easy to get frustrated by unmet goals and give up entirely. Research from the Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that only 8 percent of those who set resolutions at the new year successfully achieve their resolution. Don’t let that discourage you. Here’s the big reveal: “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” If you set specific AcWriMo goals, you are far closer to accomplishing them than you would be otherwise. If you didn’t set AcWriMo goals, there’s still almost half a month remaining…what would you like to achieve before December?
1. The template. The Thesis Whisperer, Inger Mewburn, and many other academic research and writing experts (including: Gerald Graff, Barbara Kamler and Pat Thomson, Karen Kelsky) suggest using a template to get yourself started. Here’s one Inger shared with us:
My paper’s main purpose is… (50 words)
Researchers who have looked at this subject are… (50 words)
Debate centres on the issue of … (25 words)
My contribution will be… (50 words)
If you’ve done a decent amount of research you should be able to meet this 175 word target in minutes. And the next step is just to expand on each point. So why not take one of the existing opinions you’ve read about and add roughly 200 words to section 2. And repeat.
2. The blog post. (ahem!) If getting stuck in on a piece of academic writing feels too daunting, there are two ways in which writing blog post can help you. Really, you just want to trick yourself into doing something other than looking at cat pictures so writing any old post for your blog can help here. Depending on the content of your blog, just put together the next installment (is it a conference report? is it about how to search for cat pictures? is it about how hard it is to start writing?). The key is to just get yourself writing anything and once you’re feeling productive you can hop over to the harder task of your thesis, book, chapter, article, conference paper…But another way this can help you is if you take the idea you are working on and try to make a 500-800 word blog post on it. This might align with the recent arguments for a buzz-feed-i-fication of academia (but it’s certainly not a dumbing down of your work). If you can take the pressure off by allowing yourself to write in a different style, for a slightly different audience, it can help you focus. Once you’ve hashed out the idea in web-speak, then copy that text into a new document and instead of having to start from scratch, you have to turn into an editor and convert and expand upon what you have.
3. The baby step. What’s the smallest possible thing you could do to write the next part of your work? Think about the paragraph you need to craft next or even just the sentence. Set yourself a time limit to do just that one small task (the good old Pomodoro Technique works well here) and promise yourself that’s all you have to do for now (and you’ll get a reward afterwards). Maybe you’ll watch a movie, take a bath, eat an entire jar of Nutella…the reward here is up to you. Now, sit down and complete your teeny-tiny writing task. Take that itty-bitty baby-step forwards and see if you don’t exceed your own self-imposed limit.
4. The note-taker. Oh no no no this isn’t academic writing, it’s just a bit of note taking actually! You may already use the Cornell Method of note taking, if so you’ll know this trick pretty well. Instead of sitting down to write, sit down to take some notes. If it helps, don’t even do it in a Word Doc, choose an application that allows you to jot down sections of notes instead (Scrivener, Trello, Gingko all work here). The idea is just that you disregard any thoughts of creating an argument and you simply gather notes on the ideas and concepts you’re dealing with. Believe it or not, this will form the bulk of the end product anyway and the ‘writing’ stage will become more of a ‘drafting/editing’ stage. In fact, if it helps, imagine there is no such thing as academic writing, just taking notes and organising them.
5. The insurance policy. Instead of waiting until you sit down with a cup of coffee on Monday morning to start or continue working on your latest writing project, have a writer’s block insurance policy. Towards the end of every writing session, make yourself a paragraph of detailed notes on what you need to do next. List the points you need to make and which texts you’ll use to help you make them. Be as detailed as you can. Next time you sit down to write, pull out your plan and set to work. Not only will this jog your memory come Monday morning, but you might even be able to use it as a template for writing by separating out each task and replacing it with the actual section of writing that performs that task.
Dr. Anna Tarrant is a social scientist with a background in human geography, currently working as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She is former editor of PhD2Published.com, and reflects on the history of #AcWri in this guest post.
#Acwri — which stands for academic writing — is a hashtag used in online discussions about all things related to academic writing (as it is broadly defined). It has been instrumental in establishing an on-going, online participatory community, providing an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing (empowering each member as experts in their right) and generating useful resources in the form of summaries. Scholars of all career stages and disciplines participate in a peer-to-peer support network by sharing tips, asking questions, discussing challenges and reflecting on how they write. But where did #AcWri come from?
Origins of the hashtag
I was the editor of PhD2Published during its first ever Academic Writing Month (originally Academic Book Writing Month or #AcBoWriMo, which was eventually shortened to Academic Writing Month or #AcWriMo). Interest in academic writing didn’t end when the month came to a close and this new community continued to regularly share their academic writing wins and woes using the shortened #AcWri hashtag that had been suggested by Melissa Lovell (@melovell). Around about the same time, Dr Jeremy Segrott (Cardiff University) ran a live chat using the hashtag #writter to find out if there was any interest in establishing a twitter-based writing support group. Following this chat (and having gained permission from the existing #AcWri community), we all decided to work together to organise and run fortnightly Live Chats using the #AcWri hashtag. These took place every fortnight on a Thursday evening at 8pm GMT and each one focused on a particular aspect of the writing process.
Some of the chats we have run
The live chats have covered a wide range of topics, including but not limited to; writing journal articles, turning conference papers into journal articles, writing grant applications, finding time to write and academic writing for part-time students and researchers. The topics were identified through monitoring of ongoing discussion using the #AcWri hashtag. This was important for ensuring that each topic was of interest to the community.
Every Live Chat was summarised using Storify, an online tool for creating stories from social media content. Posted on PhD2Published and Jeremy’s blog, these are really useful resources for academic writers and provide a record of the community’s discussions.
As a result of the live chats and the increasing popularity of the hashtag, the #AcWri community continued to grow and extend its reach. Demand for a chat time more suited to Australia/Asia/South Pacific time zones also grew so we announced #acwri APAC, a live chat run at 10+ GMT. This was co-chaired by Jennifer Lim and Wini Cooke who regularly participated in the community. #AcWri APAC extended the reach of #AcWri by supporting a multi-disciplinary, international discussion forum focused around academic writing.
While the live chats are no longer run, the hashtag continues to be used on a regular basis by a well-established, global and thriving academic community. #AcWri is a fantastic peer support network for academic writers of all career stages and continues to facilitate an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing, empowering each member as experts in their own right.
Melanie Boeckmann, M.A. works as Research Fellow at the University of Bremen and pursues a PhD in Public Health at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS in Germany. You can find her on twitter @m_boeckmann.
It’s only been 2.5 years but it feels much longer. This writing. This folder. This document. The final months of dissertation writing are a mixed bag of feelings. From wanting to quit, to crazy-making impatience, to doubting all merit of anything I have written, to ecstatic joy upon seeing my name in print and the pages piling up, this stretch of the process has its challenges. Regardless of the emotional turmoil that can accompany dissertation write-up season, now more than ever each word written matters. Cue AcWriMo 2014: right on time. This year “writing like there is no December” is particularly necessary to add to the final dissertation word count, to draft the next article manuscripts, and to develop teaching syllabi. So how do I plan to make the most of this academic writing month?
Keep my eyes on the prize
In early November, the thought of freewriting all the words is still joyous. This is bound to change, most likely once other tasks creep up on me and the self-imposed deadlines prove all too flexible. To keep at it throughout November, I plan on repeating this mantra:
- The more I write in November, the earlier I am done.
- The more I write in November, the less I have to write in December.
And maybe most importantly:
- The more I write in November, the greater a Holidays present I can buy myself. Even if that present comes in the form of a submission and defense date in mid-2015.
Join the virtual community – but only AFTER writing for the day
No dissertation writer is an island. The spreadsheet, twitter, facebook, blog posts or good old fashioned emails to fellow researchers all provide options to share motivation, success stories and support. They can also be the siren songs of online distraction. My goal is to check in online after I have done my 500 words for the day. That way I can also better support others struggling. Being able to say “You can do it. I just did!” is better than: “You can do it. I also will… soon-ish”.
Set stretch goals, and embrace failure
AcWriMo relies on crazy ambitious, wonderfully overestimated goals. I can write 200 words any month, this time around it has got to be 500. Or 1000. Or whichever goal scares you a little bit. This month aims at challenging you. And trust me: maybe I won’t write 1000 words a day. But if I have written 235, that is still progress. I bet at least a few times you will not only reach but exceed your stretch goals, and it will feel grand. After all, those are the moments AcWriMo participants live for.
Matt Lawson is a final year funded PhD candidate in film musicology. His thesis is entitled ‘Scoring the Holocaust: a comparative, theoretical analysis of the function of film music in German Holocaust cinema’. You can find out more about Matt at his website: www.themusicologist.co.uk, and follow him on Twitter @MattLawsonPhD.
It’s getting to that time of the PhD. I’ve completed 26 months of a 36 month GTA studentship, and September 2015 is looming as ‘the month the money runs out’.
I’m fairly happy with my progress so far. I’ve ticked lots of boxes on my CV. International conferences presented at, a couple of articles about to be published, a book chapter on the way, ample teaching experience (and a PGCTHE underway) and organisation of a conference at my host institution. However, this aside, the thesis remains the most important aspect of the whole experience. Without the PhD at the end of it, all of the other stuff will seem a little futile.
So — with 57,000 words on the board (out of an expected 60-80,000 at my university) — I gratefully received a scholarship to spend a month in Germany, accessing archives, libraries and any other institutions of interest. My key aim for this month is to get as much writing done as possible, and it coincides rather nicely with #AcWriMo!
There are several questions I asked myself before arriving here. Will the change of scenery be good for productivity? I am, after all, basing myself in the Bavarian Alps for some of the stay. Will the lack of teaching ‘distractions’ help? Will being out of my own country and away from peer support be a good thing, or hinder me?
There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to get stuck in at the deep end. Within 24 hours of arriving, I had opened my laptop and was sat staring at the monster: also known as ‘thesis’. An hour later, I was half way up a mountain with my walking boots on. OK — so maybe not the best start, but I should allow myself a bit of enjoyment, surely? After all, with temperatures of 17C, it was a very late Indian summer in southern Germany. Might as well make the most of it before the snow arrives in a few weeks.
There are two areas I have struggled with throughout the PhD. Loneliness and isolation. Those two things may seem highly linked, but they are separate problems. Loneliness comes with not feeling as though there is anyone to speak to about my research, with a PhD being such a personal and individual piece of research. Isolation came with all of the trips abroad for conferences. While these were excellent for the CV, there were negative sides to jetsetting across the world with only my thesis and presentation for company. Because of this demons I’ve battled with over the past year or so, this month will be a challenge not only academically but psychologically.
So how are things so far in Germany? Well, as I write this, it’s day three and all is well. The sun is shining, and I’ve already managed to add an admittedly pitiful 600 words or so to my thesis, despite taking a hike in the mountains for much of the second day. My targets for AcWriMo are roughly 1,000 words a day, five days a week. This means that by the time I get back to England, I will be comfortably at the upper end of my word count allowance, and working well towards the target of handing in a first draft of my thesis by Christmas.
The archival and library work I will undertake will be vital for tying up loose ends, and I will be commencing this shortly, but it is the writing which must be the priority for this monthâs visit. I suppose it’s just a case of sitting down and doing it.
After three days, I feel good, and the month ahead is almost like a clean slate given the hectic 12 months that I have just had. Writing has never seemed more appealing. It’s one thing wanting to write, and another actually doing it though. Wish me luck!
- The relevant quote. Pick up a text that relates to what you’re writing. If you’ve already read this text and have perhaps highlighted useful sections, pick a quotation and write it into your blank document. If you haven’t read the text, do a scan of a few pages looking for the most relevant part and again copy a quotation into your document. Now below the quote, explain what the author is saying, but in your own words. Now take a position, do you agree or disagree, or do you think there are both strengths and weaknesses to this point? Whatever your stance explain it under the text you’ve just written. Now you can either delete the quote (and reference the idea), or move it down so that it directly illustrates your interpretation of the point you just made.
- The therapist. A while back I wrote about using 750Words as my writing therapist but you can actually use this approach with many a writing platform. The trick is to ask yourself a set of questions and answer them. Try starting something like this:
Me 1: Hi Charlotte, what do you think you should be writing today?
Me 2: Duh! My book!
Me 1: OK so which bit exactly?
Me 2: The last chapter, the one where I try to frame the different approaches to writing about art online.
Me 1: What is the ultimate point you are trying to make with this chapter?
Me 2: That there are ways of responding to art online that change what we think of as ‘art criticism’.
Me 1: Er, doesn’t that sound like a good starting sentence?
Now delete everything but that good starting sentence and carry on from there. If you get stuck, just ask yourself what’s going on again.
3. The route map. A little like ‘the therapist’, this technique is all about writing down your route before you set off. Think about what you need to do next in your writing project. What section do you need to write? What points do you need to make in that section? What point should come first? Write a few sentences to explain this all to yourself. For example: ‘next I need to explain how some art critics see no difference between writing for a newspaper or a blog. I should offer some examples – maybe three or four….’ Now you know where you need to go, you can assess how much time it will take to get there and set off on the first leg of the tour.
4. The thief. This is not where I condone plagiarism! But we can learn a whole lot from each other on how to do things. Choose a book or article that you like. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with what you are writing, it just has to be something that resonates with you. Look at the first few pages and analyse what the writer has done. For example, if you’re trying to write the start of something, ask yourself ‘how did they begin?’ Did they use a quotation or statistic? If you’re deeper inside a piece of written work, look at how they presented an idea. How many paragraphs did they use, how did they transition between paragraphs. Go back to what you’re working on and see if you can apply some of the same structure of logic.
5. The what’s worse than this. This trick is all about offsetting. Ever noticed how easy it is to fill out a dreaded grant application when your journal article is the worse task of the two? Well now you need to work that in reverse. What’s worse than writing whatever it is you need to write? How about grading students work? Cleaning the bathroom? Find something worse – you might even make a list of things you need to do an prominently include the worse tasks. Now notice how much more energy you have knowing your not doing any of that!
Dip into your networks. Whether or not you are participating in Academic Writing Month, it is a good reminder of the value of networks and communities. Many people cringe at the word “network” because it evokes ideas of being overtly self-promoting to strangers in rather shallow ways…a leftover connotation of the corporate world. AcWriMo is a way to celebrate the vast networks of scholars, researchers, and writers working around the world. Whether you connect through social media or face-to-face, take the opportunity to get encouragement and support from like-minded folk. One of the striking things is that when you offer encouragement to people in your networks, it often comes back to you twofold.
tl;dr. You may be familiar with this acronym, which is an abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read.” We’ve been critiqued for being a short attention-span culture, scrolling down the page of an online article and unwilling to commit to a lengthy piece of writing. Consider going for the long read, because most academics are committed to the long write, right? Not only is there much to be gained from deep reading, but you can also see ways to sustain (or lose) your readers’ interest based on your own willingness to keep reading.
Do some warm ups! Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) begins 1 November, and there is no time like the present to start considering your goals. As our own Charlotte Frost wrote recently, you can set goals for word counts, time committed, or pages completed–whatever works best for you. Trying out different kinds of goals can help you decide what method will be most useful for AcWriMo and help you prepare to set goals for our big thirty-day commitment.