At this past the middling point in #Acwrimo2020, it’s good to pause and think about what you have achieved so far. If you have managed to get some writing done most days, then it is worth giving yourself a metaphorical cheer or two – well you can actually cheer out loud if you feel so inclined. And when looking back to see what you’ve done, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Given the times we are living in, and how long we have been living with risk, fear anxiety, grief, it is understandable and OK if we haven’t done as much as we’d initially hoped.
It’s really much more than OK to adjust your targets and plans. Look back at what got in the way of your writing, what made writing possible, think about what is realistic for the remainder of the month, and adjust your plan if necessary. Yes, adjust.
So a little self- accountability from me. The story of my very own reboot.
I’d planned to get four bits of writing finished, or at least well underway, this month. And I’ve not done too badly so far. Even though I haven’t been able to work on my target pieces every day I do now have two of the four crossed off my list. Two to go. However, only one of the pieces was entirely done. The other I sent back to my co-author with some final tweaking still to do – I just felt that I couldn’t see what I was doing with the text any more. But this is exactly where co-authorship is helpful. If one of you flags, the other is often able to pick up. But finishing off, or nearly, these two bits of writing wasn’t particularly satisfying. Yes they were off the list, but I felt I hadn’t really done anything that was terribly creative.
And more worrying… when look forward to the rest of the month it doesn’t seem as if I am going to have loads of time to devote to writing, if what I mean by writing is hand on mouse, seated at the screen. It’ll be a bit here, a bit there, everywhere a bitty bit. Not really very productive. Not really very #AcWriMo. So I’ve decided to lower my expectations of myself, and opt for three texts rather than four. December doesn’t look quite as hectic as November and I may get some solid time to work on the final and fourth piece.
But I haven’t stopped with simply reducing my target from four to three texts. I’ve swapped the order of what I’m going to write too. For the rest of #AcWriMo2020 I’m going to work on one new/old piece of writing. And I have re-thought what it means to write for #AcWriMOs in general.
Let me explain. This new text I’ve started has been quite a long time in the making. So while it’s new as a written text, it’s actually been hanging about for years. It’s an idea that was kind-of-there in several old research projects, but it was always a bit blurry, and there wasn’t really enough data to work with. But the idea – it’s about affect and visual art pedagogy – didn’t go away. Now however, the most recent research project points more strongly to this being an idea worth pursuing. And there is now a lot of material to work with.
But working with the idea has meant that my long-term collaborator Chris and I have had to read a lot of new theory and empirical work, largely drawn from another discipline. We’ve been slowly doing this reading over the last few months. (Some of you may know that I’ve taken to having my iPad read books to me while I’m on my exercise bike. This equates to about a book and a half a week.) The result is that I now feel on top of the literatures, well, enough to make a bit of a start on producing actual text. Last week I also did a talk where I was able to float the writing idea to see how it sounded out loud, and if it made sense to people. Chris and I also talked over the idea and developed it further. We were not only thinking about this new paper but also how it might feed into the book we are about to write. My feeling is that I need to write this paper in order to get on top of theory that will be important in the book.
The steps I/we have taken to date – an idea which hangs about and doesn’t go away and then makes its way to the surface, reading a substantial body of work related to the topic, speaking the idea aloud by putting it out in public, and a discussion which refines the idea – are often part of the academic writing process. We don’t always sit down and just write. Ideas have to percolate. We have to live with them, see how they feel, find out if they stand up to scrutiny. Alternatively expressed, only the ideas that hang in there get to be made into text and are shared.
Thinking back on these steps allowed me to reconsider what I had done these last few weeks. I had actually advanced this third paper to the point where it is approaching being written. Recognising this involved a recalculation – the exercise bike reading, the time spent preparing the talk and giving it, and the time spent with Chris in an enjoyable discussion, are all seen as worthy of counting. As legit #AcWriMo2020 writing activities. And using this more generous accounting, I can now say I’ve done a lot. I did more in the first half of the month than just finish two things off. I was also already working on the third.
And of course, this mix of activities over time is what any creative process often looks like. Not an aha. Not a sudden rush of text on the page. Not an immediate sense of achievement. Rather, academic writing as a creative practice is generally much more protracted, sporadic and opaque. The #AcWrimMo focus often only captures some of that academic writing process. If we let it. Well, not me from now on. For the rest of the month, I’m taking a more wholistic view of what academic writing includes.