Why I changed my mind about #acwrimo

Last week, Charlotte Frost of the wonderful PhD2Published blog declared November #acwrimo (academic writing month). The concept of #acwirmo comes from NaNoWriMo where the aim is to write a whole book in month.

Crazy? Yes – but that’s the whole idea. #Acwrimo is like a giant, global academic, aerobics session. It’s designed to help you push yourself to produce more than usual, but for a short period of time. You ‘sign up’ by  making a public declaration of your goals on Twitter using the #acwrimo hashtag, or by replying to the announcement post.

This is the second year that #acwrimo has been run. To be entirely honest with you, I didn’t do #acwrimo last year on ethical grounds. I consider myself a productive academic and I didn’t see the point in pushing any harder. In part my resistence to the idea stemmed from a suspicion that we academics have become unhealthily obsessed with productivity, which generates what Jo Van Every calls a ‘culture of urgency’. This situation not good for our mental or physcial health.

It’s not really our fault. Governments around the world have, for some time, treated academia as a  ‘knowledge factory’ with ‘outputs’ which can be ‘counted’. We have come to be ruled by these performance metrics, counts of journal articles published etc, despite the fact that output on its own does not really tell us much.

A raw count of output is only one indication of that value and impact of academic work – and not necessarily the best one. You can become a widely cited author because your peers think your work is terrible. A blog post might spread an idea more effectively and generate plenty of great debate, but not be counted at all.

Early career researchers (including PhD students) are particularly vulnerable to burnout in the academic performance culture. I think we need a ‘slow academia movement’ where we take time to chew over ideas and only put them out in the world when they are at their most flavoursome.

I was not sure that I should lend my social media clout (which I know is considerable) to #acwrimo last year for all these reasons, but lately I have changed my mind.

In her post Charlotte talks about setting goals that stretch you – whatever those goals might be. It may not be increased word count you want to achieve, but more time to write.

If we put the emphasis on the process, rather than the product, #acwrimo can be framed as a way to resist some of the more pernicious effects of this academic performance culture by giving ourselves more time to enjoy our writing. It can also be used as a way to explore new ways of being a writer in your daily work and stop seeing it as a source of anxiety and guilt.

While preparing a workshop for my visit to QUT next week I reread parts of Paul Silvia’s wonderful book “How to write a lot”. In it Silvia lists four ‘specious barriers’ to writing, which he frames as statements:

1) “I don’t have time”
2) “I need to read / analyse more before I start”
3) “I need a quiet space”
4) “I need to be in the right mood to write well”

Have you heard yourself say any of them? I certainly have! On Silvia’s advice I have, for over a year now, blocked out the first two hours of my work day in my diary for writing. Silvia points out that this time should include all the things that support writing – analysis, reading and so on.

However, as Silvia warns, other people don’t necessarily respect my commitment to my writing. Slowly, but surely, I have let other activities creep into my writing time – meetings, email, administration and so on. I often think to myself “I’ll just get these out of the way then I’ll get on with it”. In reality these activities just sap my writing energy and chew up time.

I’m sure I am not alone in this problem. There are many barriers to achieving your writing goals in academia. In my Getting Things Done workshop I list some of them:

  • Teaching activities
  • Getting access to research sites
  • Experiments / data gathering going wrong
  • Ethics processes
  • Funding or equipment problems
  • Illness / accidents / divorces
  • No consistent writing schedule
  • Email! (Twitter, facebook, linkedin…)
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of a support network.

Most of these factors are largely beyond our control, but I think the last four are obstacles to writing that we can fight. I suggest to you that #acwrimo might be one of the weapons we can bring to bear in this fight.

Firstly #acwrimo encourages you to make a schedule; to put aside time to work on your writing and declare it a distraction free zone from social media and email. By making a public declaration you, in effect, sign a pledge. Like declaring you will stop smoking or lose weight, a public pledge helps other people to understand that you are taking your commitment seriously.

Consistent writing, such as #acwrimo encourages, is the only cure I know for perfectionism. The more you write the more ideas you generate and the less time you have to pointlessly polish the words you already have. The short time frame – one month – is a slower form of the pomodoro technique; if you are hating it by the end of November you can stop, but until then you have to try. You never know, you might create some better habits along the way.

Finally, by joining a global community and keeping in touch with other writers via #acwrimo on Twitter, or by following the PhD2published blog, you will increase your own personal learning network and connections. This network is important, as Narelle Lemon wrote compellingly some weeks ago, in maintaining your enthusiasm for the task you have set yourself.

So I am choosing to see #acwrimo as a way to resist and give myself the gift of time to write because I genuinely enjoy it, not because I have a specific word count or goal in mind. What about you? Do you think you will join #acwrimo? Or are you still unsure? Love to hear what you think in the comments.

PS: if you like being publicly accountable, add your name to this google spreadsheet and track your progress (thanks @mystudiouslife for putting this together)

Related Posts

How to write a lot

What I learned from #acwrimo

41 thoughts on “Why I changed my mind about #acwrimo

  1. I can’t even remember if I had started following the Thesis Whisperer back when #AcWriMo was held in 2011, but when I saw the posts this year, I figured that it was something I should get into, specifically for the “joining a global community” reason you mention.

    This is a great time to be an academic, because thanks to social media, we’re connected… even when we’re stuck in our labs or in different countries. I love how I’ve finally found some people I can connect with on Twitter in the niche that I’ve dug out for myself. When I see my colleagues near and far livetweeting conferences and celebrating accepted papers, I feel motivated and inspired to keep up with them!

    Up until recently, I’ve been doing a lot of posting on social media, but not a lot of interacting. I’m getting better, but my goal with #AcWriMo isn’t so much to get some serious writing done, but to deepen my engagement with other academics online. :)

    • Imagine a sweet adolescent snetudt lovingly loaning me her favorite book in the whole world The Notebook Ugh! I really had to be gentle in my review @Mrs. B Be sure to follow-up with Madison Co.! I look forward to hearing/reading your review. See if you agree w/ me that Clint and Meryl’s chemistry was sizzling

  2. I’m probably not going to participate in any organized sort of writing for November, but perhaps next year! I feel that if I planned and saved up some money, it would be easier.
    I do like the idea of acknowledging my excuses, though. For various things that I’m working on, perfectionism can get in the way. Ever since reading a part of “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott that talked about perfectionism, I feel that it is a good idea to try and let it go to an extent. At the same time, I know that some good planning in terms of plot and character development can really be useful for some stories..so I still get stuck. But I’m trying to let go of perfectionism and keep writing. Good luck with the next month!

  3. Hi Inger, I was interested to know you will be speaking at QUT next week. What is that talk about, and is it open to other local academics from other universities? Cheers, Sarah

  4. Good thoughts, I had felt similarly about it, but when I read Charlotte’s post a week or so ago I thought maybe I would join in as a way to get a few things written that I keep putting off as they aren’t urgent but if I never block in time to do them I will never do them.

  5. As with NaNoWriMO I always seem to have bad timing. I would love to try, but being in the very final stages of my PhD it’s not about writing but revising, proof-reading and then handing the thing in.

    Still, I like your twist to not focus on quantity of words written but rather on giving yourself quality time to write. Because I could not agree more about this ridiculous development of academia being measured by its output. At least here in Germany, it’s not only resulting in a culture of much, much urgency but also academia itself is taking a toll. Because it’s just not possible to write a PhD in three years and publish ten to twenty quality articles in the same time frame, as – in Germany – these articles must not be part of your thesis in any way.

    • I’m at a similar stage but hoping that the challenge will help me to force a bit of consistency in my study during what is going to be a busy month. I am committing to just one hour each day of solid editing time from 8-9pm (I’m a part time student with 3 kids to look after during the day). I will also be joining in for the chatter on twitter.

      • I always admire people like you who can juggle several things at once. I can only ever focus on one thing but that I can. So it’s editing from morning till evening for me as money is running out. :(

  6. to be productive in writing, you have to turn it into a habit. habit formation is successful when the action is small and repetitive, built over time. acwrimo is a great way to spark writing but it may not help in cultivating the writing habit. maybe they could use acwriday (academic writing daily) that suggests how one can inculcate the academic writing habit on a daily basis once acwrimo has passed. :)

  7. I’m doing a PhD by publication and #AcWriMon is providing some support against being in academic exile. Just knowing I’m stepping up to the plate November 1st has pushed me to focus on my writing skills, what and how I’m reading articles and restructuring my organization/planning.

    Yesterday I woke up 07.50 and one of my first intelligent thoughts was that Pat Thompson had already been writing for nearly two hours – have I got two hours dedicated for today? I got that off Pat’s blog, I found Pat’s blog from Pat taking part in #AcWriMon and I found #AcWriMon from TheThesisWhisperer :-)

    I’m really looking forward to see how I’m doing against traditional PhD’rs and the subsequent post mortem 31st November – probably over a large drink or two!

  8. I guess the tricks to participating in #acwrimo are (1) identifying how much one can produce in a month, and (2) working towards that goal without being distracted by 1,001 other seemingly “more important” things, like getting new stationery.

    And of course, if you encountered distractions/setbacks along the way, the #acwrimo community would be there to “share your ups and downs.”

  9. I was thinking about it and just signed up. I’m worried because I tend to lose my goal after a week or so but it’s just 30 days. write like crazy and work out every day.

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  24. I have projects, some started and some in my mind only, but I often find myself without time to do anything. I suffer from perfectionist behaviour and welcome reading a blog which bring encouragement.

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