Academic Writing Month

Hello! I this blog post finds you well (*cringe emoji*) in spite of this week’s election (if you are in VA especially). Little did I know that when I posted my “Rest” blog on October 4th that it would be the only post I’d make in the month of October. I rested over Fall Break, as promised, and then caught a major head cold that knocked me out for weeks. It was not Covid-19 (as PCR tests confirmed), but just a rather rude assault on my immune system. The strange thing is that it forced me to take a break in a way that I really haven’t allowed myself since the summer of 2019. I don’t recommend waiting for the mother of all colds to take off your plate what needs taking off (or not overcommitting yourself in the first place hahahaha), but sometimes that’s what it takes.

In any case, I’m back feeling a million times better and not a minute too soon because it is officially Academic Writing Month (or #AcWriMo for short). Lest you think I’m sorely contradicting myself in overcommitting, just know that my 2021 AcWriMo goals are very modest. They pretty much amount to “write anything at all and I’ll be happy.” As someone who teaches a 4/4/2 WIT load, I have had some come-to-god moments with myself about comparison traps and what is and isn’t feasible (and ethical and moral) to expect of myself given my position in the modern American university system. Until my newly-minted R1 uni trickles down that research priority to us lowly writing instructors, I am going to give myself a break and take the time I need to get anything done. I look at AcWriMo as really a chance for a reset. By this point in the semester, a lot of us have dropped our writing to meet other obligations that we have (conferences, student mentoring, service, teaching, assessment). And I, personally, have more trouble meeting expectations I set for myself than I do meeting others’ expectations. So look not on AcWriMo as just another opportunity to disappoint yourself. Rather, look at it as a way to move the fucking needle so you feel *better* about doing what you *want* to do even in what seems like the absolute worst month to do that (I’d argue December is worse, though).

What follows is my current approach to AcWriMo. Feel free to adapt or adopt anything that seems helpful. Also, please take a moment and share in the comments what works for you if you’ve done or are doing AcWriMo.

This year my prep work was fairly simple. I printed a blank November calendar and began by jotting down what I would be doing from a teaching standpoint in each week (this lecture here, this assessment there, group work, office hours, etc.). I also added any personal plans that impact my normal weekly schedule (trips away, holidays like Thanksgiving, plans with friends). Then I looked again at when I might find time for writing. Let me pause and say that I have enough self-awareness of how I work best now (more than a decade into higher ed) to know that I will NOT get writing done on a teaching day. I also cannot depend on myself to do any work whatsoever on the weekends. Finally, I should not expect any more than 3 hours on a given day devoted to writing – it’s just not possible given my current schedule and my cognitive load. After thinking through all that, I assigned a number of hours for writing on the days I determined would be best for writing, and then I tallied the hours. They came to 27 hours total.

I then looked at my project list to see what I wanted to tackle in this month. I made a list with action items for each project underneath. Then I estimated how much time that project would take (how many hours). Based on these estimates, I determined that I could tackle four projects (note my word “tackle“— not necessarily complete). This approach takes into account the idea of a research pipeline. The goal is to move the needle on projects and, ultimately, to #GetYourManuscriptOut

In my case, I have one project that is near to being done, so I’m starting with that one. I’m betting that finishing this work will give me such a satisfying boost that I’ll be more likely to keep going through the rest of the month. Two of these projects are minor – one I finished in less than an hour – because they require some simple reworking of existing material. They are minor, but they have external deadlines in November and early December, so I included them. I should also pause to clarify what I included as a “writing” project in this list. I included articles, a grant, and a conference paper. I know some academics use AcWriMo exclusively to work on articles / book projects, but I want to use my month to get these other items off my desk or in a state of near-completion. I find this easier to fit into a semester schedule than tackling an entirely new project or a longer-term project. Those I tend to do during winter and summer break.

Finally, I bought some cute laptop character stickers to mark the days I complete my AcWri in my planner as a nerdy, but fun reward to myself.

Are you doing AcWriMo? If so, do you prep for it? What works best for you?

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page). ALSO, I am happy to announce that I recently launched a biweekly podcast called Vita Abundantior in which I conduct interviews with awesome women and ask them how they go about living such abundant lives (avail on all major streaming platforms).

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