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Reflections on #AcWriMo, writing bootcamps and doctoral writing practices

One of the things I wanted to work on early in my doctoral studies was developing a deeper knowledge of which writing practices work for me and which are less suited to my way of working. As I blogged on previously, I committed to #AcWriMo in November and this month decided to try a Shut up and Write! day. Both had their successes and limitations and I will try to explore their successes and limitations in this blog.

Firstly, I think the most important thing to note is that I acknowledge the fact that what works for me may not work for others. The more I reflect on my own practices of writing and reading, the more I realise that they are my practices. These are something that have evolved over time and have a relationship to time, place and the other demands of my life. Some of these practices are similar to others and some are very different. To me, it is like cooking, there is no magical recipe, there are basic ingredients that need to be there for the food to be edible but their combinations and personal additions can make the food into something special.

Reflections on #AcWriMo

At the beginning of November I set myself 4 tasks to complete and a time goal of one hour writing per day.  In terms of meeting these goals, I managed to complete the conference paper and a draft of the learning contract, one blog and made a start on my RDC1 (formal proposal) although I didn’t complete as much as I wanted to. In terms of time, I managed 5 sessions per week although they didn’t constantly meet the goal of an hours writing.

Whilst I didn’t quite achieve my goals, I learnt a lot from the process. Firstly, to be able to write constantly, you must have already read enough to support the writing process. I found that I had to miss out on a few writing sessions because the writing was contingent on reading a key paper first. I’ll come back to this point later again when I talk about shut up and write! I also found that morning really is the best time for me to work; between 6:30am and 8:30am being my most productive. Trying to get myself into writing mode after work just doesn’t work for me and this is something that has been useful to identify early on so that I can build my space to work on the PhD around my life but also in a way that maximises productivity.

Reflections on Shut up and Write!

Following a writing bootcamp led by Rowena Murray, Annika (@annikacoughlin) proposed that a group of us set up a regular writing day to benefit from the social element of writing and to help create a space for working on our PhD’s. She has documented the process on her blog so I will focus on what opportunities it offered me and how I plan to use these to develop my writing practices.

I admit, I was sceptical to some extent. As I have reflected on above, I prefer to write early in the morning and usually do in a solitary way hidden in my office. Annika promised that the day was going to be silent and it was. The great thing about other people being there was that you felt you needed to be productive as other people were. The other important element for me was the internet / social media ban and this made me realise how much my working practices are punctuated by procrastination activities.

At the beginning of the day I set myself the goal to write 2 pieces of writing that I am working on for my next supervision. One related to the context of my study and the gap it will fill and the other on the theoretical framework I plan to use. Following the lessons learned from #AcWriMo, I spent the few weeks leading up to the day reading lots, sorting papers and planning a framework for the writing I planned to do on the day.

I am usually used to writing and reading in a more integrated way so this style was a real departure from my current practices. I was pleasantly surprised how well it worked. In just over four hours of writing time, I managed 2000 words I was happy with and then used the following day to polish them up a bit and rework the sections leading to a good solid piece of writing. Having a focal point to work towards really helped me to create a good substantive piece of work. I think this is one thing that certainly will help doing these monthly as it means I need to think of a substantive goal for each session which will ensure that I am writing something each month.

What’s next?

We are already planning the next shut up and write day for January, and I plan to try to use my study routine developed from #AcWriMo to read and write in an integrated way, develop ideas in note form and then to use the monthly bootcamps to focus those thoughts into specific outputs dependent on current demands.

Certainly what I have learned about myself in term of what works for me has been invaluable. It has also made me more open to trying new techniques to see if they will help develop my practices to make them even more effective. It has also showed me the importance of creating small, regular writing goals to ensure that wiring is a continual process and not just something that happens in a just in time way for deadlines.