Today, blogger Vesna Curlic reflects on the mad dash known as Academic Writing Month. She reflects on her goal to write 10,000 words and what she learned about the practise of writing. Spoiler alert: it is harder than you think.
It’s nearing the end of November, which means that Academic Writing Month is coming to an end. I’ve written a lot and moreover, I’ve learned a lot about the practise of writing.
Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo) is a project to encourage academics to write as much as possible during the month of November. It is inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which also takes place in November. NaNoWriMo encourages people to write a novel in a month, with a word count goal of 50,000 words. AcWriMo doesn’t have any sort of equivalent prescriptive word count goal, but it embraces that same kind of frantic writing energy that puts quantity above quality. This challenge is based on the idea that words on the page can be edited later, but that focusing on quantity allows us to put aside the nagging, perfectionist voices that often slow writing down.
There was no way that I could write 1667 words per day in November to reach the 50,000 word mark. First, I try not to work on weekends because it helps me maintain my work-life balance and moreover, I’m teaching this semester as well as managing this blog. All things I love, but things that mean that I’m quite busy. I also just think academic writing doesn’t lend itself to that volume in such a short time! I picked a much more manageable writing goal – 10,000 words. This averages out to about 500 words per working day, with a bit of leeway for days where no writing got done. It also coincided perfectly with a chapter deadline I have in early December.
How it started
I started the month strongly. The first few days of November, I wrote every single day. I worked on my article and my chapter in equal measure. It felt great! I was excited to write and it was really nice to revisit some sources I hadn’t thought about in a while. I exceeded my writing goals the first few days and felt energised.
Quickly, however, the work piled up. I felt like every day, I was just playing catch-up. I couldn’t get ahead of my work – something new was always piling on top of the list. This is a very typical midterm feeling.
Moreover, I quickly realised that I should have outlined what writing actually counts towards my final goal. Obviously, chapter work counts, since that was the main driving factor behind starting this challenge. Emails didn’t count as writing, but what about the in-between stuff?
How it’s going
I started by putting all the work that ‘counted’ in a single Word document. As of November 24, this document has a measly 1,321 words towards my chapter draft. However, I did so much writing this month that I didn’t count in my document.
I wrote 6, 184 words for a talk that I gave this month (I always write out full scripts, and not all of this was new, but it might be helpful for an article I’m working on in the future).
I wrote over 5,000 words of feedback for my students’ essays. I wrote 1,968 words for various blog posts across different platforms (2,878 if you include this one today). I wrote 3,300 words of notes from my primary source reading.
I easily surpassed 10,000 words and yet, my chapter draft remains far from finished. Did I fail AcWriMo? I’m not sure, but I’ve learned a lot about my writing habits.
What I’ve learned
The biggest thing I learned was that my writing time is precious and must be held sacred. Any day that I promised myself, ‘let me just do this one thing and then I’ll get started on writing,’ I didn’t write at all. Writing has to come first in the day and it needs time. It, unlike emails or admin work, can’t be done in 15 minute intervals between other tasks. This makes sense because I’ve always been a binge writer. I need time to build up my focus. Ideally, I love spending whole days on writing. Some of my fondest academic memories are of the summer I spent writing my MA thesis – long days of writing, migrating from desk to desk, no other priorities besides writing and editing.
I’ve also learned the importance of just starting. AcWriMo gave me a really good excuse to quit my procrastination on my next thesis chapter. I’d really enjoyed the process of writing my last two, which were on similar topics, and shifting to a new theme entirely was really daunting. AcWriMo remind me that the first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done. I love to lean into this chaotic approach to academic writing. The pressure of AcWriMo gave me the jolt I needed to return to this approach and embrace writing chaotically, with no time spent worrying about quality.
So, in the end – did I fail AcWriMo? I don’t think I did, but it did make me realise I need to shift my routine around. I got used to my daily routine and tried to fit writing into that routine, when really, writing intensive periods need a whole new routine. Stay tuned to find out how that new routine goes in the coming weeks!
Vesna Curlic is a PhD researcher in History at the University of Edinburgh and current SGSAH Blogger. Her thesis project considers the relationship between disease, disability, and the British immigration system in the early twentieth century. More broadly, her research interests include the history of medicine and science, modern immigration law, and public health policy. She splits her time between Edinburgh and her hometown of Toronto, Canada.