Writing, retreat and #AcWriMo

Captain’s Log. 2nd December 2015. It’s been two days since the end of AcWriMo. Two days since we writers  could say that we #survived. It was a struggle, a lonely road, but it was worth it…

Go on, you read that in Shatner’s voice, didn’t you?

We are fresh off the back of another AcWriMo (or academic writing month – the baby of @PhD2Published), and it was the first one I fully participated in. Given that I’ve another writing block ahead of me and have recently discovered the writing retreat, I felt my bloggy-senses tingling.

It’s part of that universal tip-kit you find at the start of your PhD. “How to write”, because of course most of us have never written like this before. Generally, it’s about getting into a regular writing practice, learning about the environment you’ll write best in and, essentially, taking the plunge and actually writing something.

These are gospel. You do have to consider these things, but from my own experiences I thought I’d add my own advice into the mix:

AcWriMo and the University

The AcWriMo concept is brilliant, first of all. A month dedicated to cutting swathes through your writing projects? Bliss. But, if you’re based in a university, with seminars to lead, research to present, lectures to give etc., it is very, very easy to make excuses to miss a day. Yeah, one ‘day’.

So, to combat these ‘Responsibility Goblins’ (a patented term, thank you) that sap writing time I had to change my plan of attack this year. PhD2Published asked me what I found to be the best writing approach for myself. my answer?

when I’m struggling I write by subsection (c.800w) + 5min breaks in between – max! And I lose momentum reading so no books!!

Small, targeted sections of writing inbetween Goblin battles and a wealth of prep (so, reading) before hand. I’m not the best reader in terms or theory. I can get distracted quite quickly so I actually find writing easier. If I read, then, in the middle of writing, I won’t get much of either done. There are plenty who prefer to do both, but it’s not for me.

That’s actually a method our PhD community group here in Glasgow Caledonian have been using in writing retreats. Bring journals, books etc with your notes scribbled all over them sure, but no reading unless absolutely strictly necessary.

love writing retreats. We’re secreted in a room for the day. People bring treats for breaks (yummiest banana bread I’ve ever had) and you’re all clacking away on keyboards working towards the same thing.

It is not however, for those with only small patches of writing to complete. You are in there for hours. So although we welcome people at any stage in their PhD, unless you’re ready to write up some findings, prepare a presentation, write an article or your thesis, another means of writing might be best for you. In my opinion.

So when you are writing elsewhere, at home, in the office, on the move, I find this can actually be the most difficult way for me to produce something good. Again, I get so distracted. I find a million things to do at home, or decide the dog is clearly being neglected and needs playtime. At work I’ll suddenly remember those teeny tiny tasks I’d forgotten all about the past two months and why, they just must be done this very minute!

But, I found an answer for this too. Controlled procrastination. I’ll write, for short bouts of time – an hour usually – and then I can wander off to my hearts content for ten minutes. Rinse. Repeat. For me it’s the only way I get any writing done at home. Editing is a different story.I find editing something at home is pretty wonderful, actually. I relax, put the comfy trousers on, sit with the (metaphorical) red pen and be as merciless as I can with my own work. Really you should do this at home. It doesn’t always bring out the warm fuzzy feelings in you. Home is good. Home is safe. You can lament the woeful scribblings of your mind to your wee heart’s content at home.

Before the PhD, I used to approach writing as something that depended on the mood. And while to an extent this is still true, I’ve learnt to cultivate the right mood by thinking about what I have to write. I reckon we’re long past the point where we can just wait for inspiration to strike.

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