What I learned during #AcWriMo 2019

I started #AcWriMo 2019 with all the best of intentions, but life really did get in the way this year. If you don’t know about Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo), it was started by PhD2Published, but is now a world wide gathering in November each year of academics wanting a  writing boost. There’s more detail in this post by the Thesis Whisperer, but the basic components are to set some serious writing goals for the month (such as 10,000 words total or half an hour a day), make yourself publicly accountable by posting them online, and then start writing! Throughout the month you update your online spreadsheet to stay accountable, and also get the support of a whole community of #AcWriMo participants, particularly on twitter.

I’ve participated a few times in the past with mixed success, but I was sure this year was going to be amazing. I had some really clear goals, time available and had even organised a 3-day writing retreat! But despite all this it was hard and I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped. Overall I only did 47% of my scheduled writing time (and gave up on the 26th of November), although I managed to write 81% of my target words. These is some of the things I learned as I struggled through:

  1. Public accountability is good! Having a small group of twitter people I touched base with on a Friday really helped me to stay on track. Thanks @LaurenJchristie @AnnieMcCluskey2 @Lisa_Beatty & @lnraines1!
  2. I thought I’d love filling in my google spreadsheet, but actually much preferred colouring squares on my manual whiteboard tracker (see image above). Being able to visualise the progress was really motivational.
  3. Tracking both time and words written was important – sometimes I had put in the time but hadn’t written words because I was thinking about structure or re-arranging text. This time was still valuable, but if I’d only been tracking words it would have been disheartening.
  4. I love the concept of ‘Low hanging fruit’ to start and finish a writing session. The concept was referred in either the Acadames podcast or the Good, Bad & Ugly of Writing in Academia podcast (sorry I can’t remember or find which, but both are worth listening to!) and means leaving a note to myself about where I am up to or leaving a sentence half finished. This gave me a quick and easy way to get straight back into writing in the next session, rather than feeling like I needed to reread the whole thing to remember what I was talking about.
  5. I can accomplish a LOT in one pomodoro (25 minutes). I quickly realised that, for me, the challenge of writing is not coming up with the words, but is just sitting down, sitting still and sticking to it.
  6. I can only do about 2 or 3 pomodoros in a block. Doing one by itself often felt a bit short, but 4 in a row fried my brain. Doing 2 blocks of 3 pomodoros (so about 3 hours of writing) in a day was super productive and felt very achievable.
  7. Having a physical break, such as stretching, going for a quick walk or making a cup of tea, between pomodoros was much more refreshing than just checking email or looking at my phone.
  8. The writing retreat was cancelled in the end, but I had a great few days doing writing sessions in various cafes and libraries on campus with my writing buddy @CStatsAU. Changing the location and writing with someone else was fun and I’m thrilled that we now have a writing accountability in my office.
  9. @LaurenJchristie gave me the great idea to also track self-care activities in my tracking spreadsheet, not as yet another ‘thing to do’ but to remind me that I can support myself to write productively in ways that don’t involve sitting in front of the computer.
  10. Life gets in the way sometimes. Although this was disappointing at times, tracking how much I had been able to do and accomplish actually meant that I was less frustrated, because I could see that I was making progress despite having so many competing demands. It also helped that I had prioritised writing for the month, so even though I had to be realistic about what I could do in a day, I also had clear priorities of what to do with the time available.

Overall, #AcrWriMo 2019 was hard, but I think writing a lot in a short time is always going to be difficult. But keeping track, being accountable and having support meant that it was absolutely worthwhile, and I am already looking forward to #AcWriMo2020! The real challenge now is to implement what I learned in my daily work life, so I can maintain my momentum.