Sunday, November 22, 2015

#AcWriMo and Writing Accountability - Nearly There!

A little more than halfway there! It's Day 22 of Academic Writing Month. As I've shared, I'm tracking progress for the blog Stylish Academic and updating on Twitter. I'm also participating in a faculty writing accountability group at my institution. With all of this external accountability, its about time for some deeper-than-140-characters reflection on progress thus far.

As someone who has been moderately productive to date, my interest in external accountability sources is more for the camaraderie than for the kick in the pants. (Though the kick definitely does help!) Specific to AcWriMo, breaking down my goals into concrete product and process steps has been particularly helpful. I teach three courses per semester and each course three days per week, so writing tends to happen in fits and starts, rather than regularly. And it's much too easy for me to prioritize my own work over collaborative work for which I'm not the PI. Probably not that unusual, but it holds up progress on multiple projects - particularly projects that involve undergraduate student co-authors. (Because those do exist.)

This year, I was in a good position to move these projects to the forefront. I submitted an NIH grant and major revisions to a manuscript in October, so I had cleared the way for the more careful thought needed toward the beginning of a manuscript. And I committed - to myself, my writing group, and the AcWriMo community - that I would make progress on two student co-authored manuscripts (in addition to my higher-priority work). Here is where we stand.

The bad news. This month started out well. I set aside time for writing both during the week and on the weekend, and I made it to a coffee shop during the first week. Then I was out of town for a conference; worked a bit while I was there, but picked up some awful throat-based plague from the airplane.* Came home to a raging throat/head cold that resulted in losing my voice for almost a week. In the middle of that week, I had longer-term medical issues to handle. (All VERY unusual for me - I'm pretty healthy!) So my process goal (two hours of writing per day on three days per week, at a coffee shop one day per week) was heavily disrupted during one of only two full weeks during the month. In addition, one of my student co-authors was supposed to make progress on our manuscript while I was gone. He ran into some roadblocks and ended up with no forward movement. That's life - we can't stop the unexpected. Fortunately, I learned a long time ago that flexibility wins the day.

The good news. On the bright side, I submitted an internal grant proposal and an IRB application this month, and my revision was accepted. Moreover, I've accomplished something that I've long struggled to make work for me. Many of us like (and are most productive when we have) large chunks of time to write. Makes sense, as this allows us to become immersed in the project and focused on its needs. With shorter time frames, we barely get our heads back into the project before we have to move on. But as my graduate mentor always told me, the most productive scholars are those who find ways to maximize 15-30 minute blocks for writing. I believed him, though I never saw myself as capable of achieving this zen-like writing flow.

Excited about 45 minutes of
unplanned writing.
In the past two weeks, however, I've done this several times; 30 minutes here, 45 minutes there, 15 minutes on data analysis if need be. I find that this actually minimizes the amount of time necessary to get my head back into the project. The more familiarity I have with the material, the less time it takes to orient myself, and the more I can get done in small chunks. Importantly, I'm also more enthusiastic about the project than I was when I procrastinated on it. This approach has allowed me to come close to finishing the first draft of a student co-authored manuscript, despite interruptions in my schedule. 

Finally, I had the opportunity to give a research presentation to the faculty at my institution yesterday. Preparing for, delivering, and answering questions during this event pulled some threads of my research program into sharper focus. And it seemed to go very well, which got me even more excited about finishing the semester strong.

Toward the AcWriMo finish line. My goals are to continue with my 2/2/2h + 2-at-a-coffee-shop approach for the final week of AcWriMo, focused on finishing that manuscript draft and progressing on a grant application. The second manuscript might have to move back down the priority list if the student isn't able to make progress; I'll help him avoid this as much as I can. Looking forward to the final update in just over a week.

Happy writing!

*Not surprising. Any time you fly to Orlando, you end up on a plane with sick children going to Disney World.

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