Around this time last year I did something very silly. Inspired by NaNoWriMo I decided to try and bash out 50, 000 words of my academic book in one month, and I invited the international academic community to do it with me. I called the event AcBoWriMo (Academic Book Writing Month) and used PhD2Published and it’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to organize it all. I copped the odd bit of flack times for appearing to suggest that this target was A) possible B) likely to produce polished work and that C) academia should be fast and furious – three things I never meant to imply at all. But ultimately the event went really, really well.
The actual point was to bring a writing community together and share our ways of working. I did promote the idea of writing a lot and trying to do it quickly but only to snap us all out of our procrastinatory hazes and to provoke discussion about the difficulties of our writerly lifestyles. And boy did we build a great writing team. I was so lucky that over 100 people took part and generously shared their own processes and the highs and lows of trying to write up academic research. And recently, some people have even said that it was the bonkers idea of writing so much that compelled them to take part. I just wanted to get people working together and being open and honest about their practice. I set up PhD2Published entirely out of a desire to be free and open about academia and Ac(Bo)WriMo is no different.
And quite frankly it was an experiment – although one that went better than I could ever have hoped!
I was deeply touched to receive many public and private thank yous after the month-long event. So many people told me that having a support network helped them feel a lot less lonely and learning new techniques helped them form better (and happier) writing habits for the future. And I’m not too tough to admit that being thanked in Emily Kothe’s PhD thesis acknowledgements made me teary eyed (see image)! I remember only too well how tough it is to write a thesis and I was thrilled to know I’d been able to help Emily in some small way. (I wish I’d had a virtual team to help me through the last months of my own thesis, I’m sure I’d have eaten a lot less Nutella).
This year we’re about ALL aspects of academic writing, and encourage participants to set their own (wild) goals. As a result of that, and the strength of the AcWri community that built up after last year’s dedicated writing month, the event is now called AcWriMo – we’re dropping the ‘Bo’. And then it’s pretty much the same six rules:
1. Set yourself some crazy goals. Try and come up with some outcomes that would really push you beyond anything you ever thought possible. I always said 50,000 words is a bit of a nutty goal for academic writing in one month (it works out at something like 2,500 words a day and that’s just bonkers) but if you’re bonkers, go ahead and set that target. Otherwise, think about how much you are comfortably able to write a day and set yourself the task of regularly exceeding that amount. If you can manage 300 words a day then we want 400, if you can do 1000, then we want 1500 – something like that. Last year, a lot of people preferred setting themselves a time-based goal. They would try to write for so many hours a day or week and often used the Pomodoro technique to count units of productive time. If that’s your thing, go for it! How about sneaking in an extra Pomodoro a day? Or, look at all the writing tasks you’ve got to achieve over the next few months and decide to get a set amount of them done in November. In the US it’s job season, so how about you count your job-letter-writing-time. Or article drafts maybe?
2. Publicly declare your participation and goals. You can do this by adding to the comments of the original blog post, by tweeting using the hashtag #AcWriMo, by writing on our PhD2Published Facebook page, or by adding yourself to Jenn Lim’s AcWriMo Accountability Spreadsheet. Being accountable is key to this working for you as a way to push yourself, but if you want to silently take part, at least tell a friend who is likely to hold you to it.
3. Draft a strategy. This is essential if you’re going to make a success of this. Sitting down to write without preparation is the first step towards being struck down with writer’s block. We’ll be blogging and tweeting lots of ideas to help you, so before you start, work out a strategy for how you’ll tackle your set tasks. For example, establish how much you’ll need to write a day, and on which days you can definitely do this. Offload as much other work as you can, and get in some supplies (we recommend stocking up on decent coffee of course). Think about how you work best and adopt that approach from the start – this means planning everything from comfy clothes to reading sessions.
4. Discuss what you’re doing. OK so being on Twitter and Facebook with us all day isn’t acceptable – you’ve got work to do – but checking-in at certain times is imperative! We want to know how you’re getting on? What is working for you and what isn’t? We want you to tell us all if you need help with something but also to celebrate your successes with us too. And nothing is TMI when it’s AcWriMo because that’s the point: sharing!
5. Don’t slack off. As participant Bettina said of AcBoWriMo, you must ‘write like there’s no December!’ But guess what? If you work super hard now, there’s going to be more December to go round. Remember how December usually creeps up on you and suddenly its Christmas Eve and you’ve failed to buy gifts or take time out for yourself. Well, if you put the work in now, there’ll be so much December you won’t know what to do with it all!
6. Publicly declare your results – and please be honest! As a writing community, we’ll all benefit from sharing in your achievements, but it is also good to see what works and what doesn’t. And if you don’t make your targets, you’ll still be achieving the selfless goal of making the rest of us feel more normal – so it’s a community win/win really.
Keep your fingers and toes crossed for us all, it’s going to be a pretty full-on November with lots being blogged and tweeted about academic writing. For example, I’m excited to be featuring writing on PhD2Published by Wendy Laura Belcher, author of Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, who finds obstacles to academic writing and shows you how to pole volt over or tunnel under them with aplomb!
My blog post for the Guardian Higher Education Network is out now. In it, I describe where the idea for PhD2Published came from and, in line with our regular tips features, I offer five bits of advice I’ve learnt along my own publishing journey. The article starts:
“At heart, I’m a digital researcher, often overly evangelical about the benefits of freely sharing information online. In head, however, I recognise publishing books remains an integral part of academia. After my PhD, I realised I’d need to discover how on earth I might get a book published in an increasingly competitive market – not to mention find a way of reconciling these, the yin and yang of my academic being.”
Meanwhile, in one of tips (that focus on the business aspects of academic publishing) I say:
To read the full article and add your own comments, head over to the site now. I’d really like to know what you think early-career academics need to know about publishing in this day and age. And don’t forget to join the Guardian Higher Education Network and be a part of this valuable new community.
I am really excited to announce that the first book in the Arts Future Book series (rather, the first line in the conversation about the digital future of academic publishing in the arts that Arts Future Book represents) will be mine!
Over the next year I will be researching and writing my book Art History Online: Mailing Lists, Digital Forums and the Future of Criticism. It will provide an account of the use of the email-based discussion list in the arts in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I am interested in the list because I believe it represents, among other things, the transition in art history from knowledge that can be comfortably described through a book and a different type of knowledge that can’t. I want to write about the list not only to reclaim its unique history in terms of the way it offered artists a new discursive space, but also because it problematises art historical systems – like the book – and allows me to ask after future models for art critical pursuits.
And as is the Arts Future Book way, I’ll also be finding ways of expanding the discussion the series and my book represent, as well as looking into new publishing technologies to support today’s art critical and contextual acts. For more information, there is currently a great post about Arts Future Book by Gylphi’s editor, Anthony Levings, on PhD2Published right now, where he discusses some of the issues the series taps into. He explains:
“…given that so much digital art is now produced, works of art criticism also need to respond to the restrictions placed on them by print especially when their subject matter is electronic. Out of this dilemma has been born the ‘Art Future Book’ project with the aim of bringing shape and form to the loose and unpredictable art book of the future. The subject is something ideally suited to the ‘book’ series format, even though it paradoxically challenges the whole notion of the very objects it seeks to collect together.”
The research project brings together experts in the creative and technological development of publishing to discover what the literally and theoretically book-bound art critical disciplines might absorb from online information networks and emergent publishing systems.
Current project partners are:
The academic book series, published by Gylphi, seeks to foster new scholarship in the arts, and publish unique works that rethink contemporary visual culture and establish new systems for considering art. It will exploit recent technological advances in publishing to better disseminate such bodies of arts knowledge and develop wider readership and new reader experiences. Each book published within the series will respect established academic standards, while redefining what an academic text might be and how it might be used.
You can keep up to date with the project and the book series through our Facebook page and of course I’ll be blogging some updates here too…
It starts like this:
“Art of Digital London is an Arts Council England programme designed to help London Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) develop strong strategies for connecting with audiences via technology. It features ten Digital Strategy Salons and Surgeries organised by OpenMute, IT4Arts and IT4Communities. So far, these have looked at: project planning, revenue generation and innovation, with the latest, entitled ‘Publishing – The Digital Word and the Arts’, taking on the evolution of arts publishing platforms.
The morning’s presentations included Chris Meade from ‘think and do tank’ Institute for the Future of the Book (if:book) who asked what ‘bookiness’ is in the information age, and looked at how digital technologies can reinvigorate the reading experience (after showing some all-too familiar images of people napping in libraries).”….read more
I shared the idea with friends as I worked out how to create a set of informative components for the site while getting a designer (Sam Beddoes) to help me visualise the whole thing. And eventually every second of leisure time had been swallowed by the project as I established the information core (with Sam and I having our best brainstorming sessions online after midnight). So far the site includes:
I got publicity straight away from a-n magazine and Ashgate Press and a flood of emails raving about what a great idea the site is and how useful it’s going to be. Then came phone calls from friends wanting my advice; it seems I’ve turned into a publishing guru without having had time to do much more than send out one (quickly rejected) pitch myself. Although obviously I planned for my first pitch to fail just so I’d have more material for the site!
And all this happened before I’d really launched the project! Before I’d collected together an email list or even begun to let fellow post-PhD’ers know I’m out here, hunting and gathering for them and their future publishing successes!
So, finally, with the help of my intern Ellina, it is with great pleasure that I can crack open the Champagne (or perhaps a double espresso) and invite everyone to join me in toasting the official launch of: