This morning I read a blogpost from Martin Eve labelled a dissenting voice on#AcBoMoWri. As I understand it, AcBoMoWri has been initiated as a response to #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Whereas, Martin suggests that the aim of AcBoMoWri is to “bash out words to get as close as possible to writing a book”, I see it more as one of a number of recent initiatives to encourage academics to get writing. Others include pomodoras, #shutupandwrite, creative writing workshops and 750 words. Lying behind each of these initiatives seems to be a search for ways of breaking through procrastination and writing avoidance and getting our research findings down on paper and out into the public domain. Given that one of the reasons we engage in research is to share our findings and out thoughts, what are we to make of these initiatives?
Martin quite rightly raises concerns about the risks of churning out material without the necessary thinking and evaluation that makes our writing meaningful. The debate that has emerged on Twitter also recognises the very real problems of short-termism and the need to produce and be counted. A culture of short term grants and a requirement for outputs, can lead to a multitude of books and articles that say very little and which fail to consider the bigger picture. This is something we all need to be concerned about. Research, whatever the field, is about so much more than inputs and outputs.
At the same time, we can be resistant to put pen to paper. Discussions in #phdchat week after week reveal the anxieties of graduate researchers as we seek to find ways to express our ideas, always questioning whether we have any kind of conceptual or theoretical framework, whether what we are wanting to say has any real meaning, and, in any case, is what we want to say good enough, not only for sharing but to gain the accolade of a doctorate.
It seems to me that incentives to write are positive. Not all will resonate. I have not been able to see the point of 750 words and writing every day – some days, I have nothing to write, apart from a short note to myself about what to think about and read next, or a shopping list. On the other hand, shutupandwrite can work for me, as long as I plan what I will focus on in the writing session. There is something energising about writing when others are too – but then I get the same from knowing that colleagues in the #phdchat network are working alongside me, albeit each in our own space, at times when most sane people are engaged in leisure activities or doing stuff with the family.
So what of AcBoWriMo? My initial response was one of how crazy – why put pressure on myself to deliver a given product in a specific time? Then I looked at it again and realised it resonated with where I currently am with my own thesis writing. I know what I want to write and I know what the structure will look like. The chapters are sketched out, but the writing task needs to be done. I have been working to a fairly loose aim of completing the next draft by the end of term, but actually, with a bit of effort, there is no real reason why it shouldn’t be done by the end of this month, and if adopting the hashtag #AcBoMoWri will keep me focused and remind me I have a commitment not only to myself but to others, well and good. What I write will not be polished or fit for publication, or even submission as thesis, but will be the next step on that journey.
For me AcBoWriMo has come at an opportune time. At a different time, it would be no incentive or value whatsoever. It is not about writing a given number of words in a day, but writing what is already well-digested material and doing so in a timely manner.
But the concerns raised by Martin about the more general nature of academic writing remain.