November is #AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month), an opportunity for academics to get together to boost their productivity, think strategically, get support from others and generally together try and make better sense of this strange occupation of writing. You can read about it in the Guardian, you can also join the Twitter brigade here.
I joined today, officially. As you’ll see from the newspaper piece, the first step is to set a target and develop a strategy, so that is my plan here today. A couple of things are frightening me though.
Firstly, I don’t necessarily play nicely with others – or rather find others often don’t play nicely with me, and am generally wary of crowds, collectives, groups.
Secondly, I fear targets, the pessimist in me feels the threat of failure only increased by setting oneself a target.
Thirdly, I am rubbish at strategy. Just totally, absolutely, gut wrenchingly, rubbish.
However. Circumstances have moved ahead of these preferences. I have writing to do, serious quantities of it. And I need it done now. The last time I felt quite as nervous about a piece of writing was when I was about 12 months from the end of my PhD and just about to start the dreaded ‘write’. At that time I was prepared to tackle the above fears head on, by setting myself a daily target of 1000 words, and taking in editing time and meetings with my supervisor, aiming for roughly a chapter a month. That sounds like a strategy right? I also started a blog where the 1000 word milestone was the main focus, and talked about my daily progress, struggles, etc…
Well. The short version is that it worked. I enjoyed the blogging experience, I found the daily target a very productive discipline, and l0 and behold, I produced something of which I was incredibly proud within the alloted time.
I am now attempting to publish my PhD as a book. I have a contract to do so. My submission date is the 1st January (fun New Year’s huh?). I have already had every extension I’m going to get. And I’m behind.
In order to give myself enough time to edit, review, re-write etc. I need to finish the book by the end of this month. When I say ‘finish’ I mean I need to have everything there, not necessarily perfect, not necessarily in the right order, and not necessarily with every last ‘t’ crossed, but everything there, somewhere, a first draft.
Chapter 1 is done. It needs a bit of work which can wait till December. All good so far.
Chapter 2 is about half written. I need to finish it.
Chapter 3, 4, 5, & 6 are all pretty much in the bag. They will all need some attention, nothing major, can wait till December.
Chapter 7 needs writing. From start to finish. Period.
Each chapter is roughly 10,000 words long. My priority is to finish Chapter 2 and write Chapter 7, so, 15,000 words.
Today is the 2nd November. That means I have 20 working days and 8 weekend days, take out the weekends I am already unavailable and that becomes 4 days.
Then there is the day job. One major project drawing to a close and a new one in the pipeline, there is simply no way that I can give anything less than 9-5 to the day job at the moment. Nevertheless I have taken out all other commitments, no reviewing, no seminars, no teaching, no conferences, till 2013. I probably won’t get much reading done either – unless it’s relevant to the book of course.
So, I think the most I am going to give to writing on an average work day is about 2 hours.
Weekends are a different kind of challenge. Saturday is ok, I can go into the office and pretend it’s still the week and I probably won’t notice until after lunch. Let’s say I can get 4 hours a day of writing. Sunday, office closed, more difficult, I’ll say another 2 hours a day for each Sunday. I know this doesn’t seem like much, but weekends are tricky, I will need some time to rest, and there’s no point setting an unrealistic target.
So. Total hours: (22 x 2) + (2 x 4) = 52
52 hours in which to write 15,000 words. That’s around 290 words per hour, or 580 words for each 2 hour session.
Ok. That is going to be tough but not out of the question. The conditions will have to be right though.
My best writing time is the morning, and my most productive writing place currently is my office. So whenever possible I need to get to the office as early as I can, which given a 90 minute commute is probably 8am. My ideal daily routine therefore is:
6am Wake Up
6.30am Leave house
8am Arrive at work. Start Writing.
10am Stop writing. Start day job.
6pm Finish day job. Go home.
7.30pm Get home. Eat. Rest. Exercise.
11pm Go to sleep
A quick check on my diary suggests that, currently, this is realistic on all but 3 of my workdays. That’s 6 hours off the total, which means a new hourly target of 325 and daily target of 650.
I will just have to see how I get on, it’s likely I will need to squeeze some more out of my weekends. I purposely estimated low for the weekends, an attempt to build some contingency into the plan, so hopefully I can find a few more hours there.
So. A routine huh? Another thing I fear and mistrust, as you can find out for yourself on these very pages.
I have kept to this kind of routine before, though not for more than a couple of weeks at a time. It is demanding, but do-able. As long as the simple things like ‘go to sleep’ don’t present too many problems…