This comes a little late, as #AcWriMo properly finished almost three weeks ago now. However I have been lacking the necessary reflective space via the exclusion of all else in favour of submitting my first book. This was of course the thing that loomed large and unassailable up until the beginning of November, when with the help of a virtual community of scholars and a seriously useful piece of external discipline via the Accountability Document (yet one more reason making it impossible for me to boycott Google, but hey ho) I took the proverbial bull by the horns and, well, tamed it.
Today I am a yes person.
I submitted my book on Thursday night.
I received an email back from the publishers straight away: an out-of-office autoreply. My publishing assistant is away until the 2nd January. That’s two days after the book was due. I am free of all concern and looking forward to Christmas sans sword of Damocles. I have #AcWriMo to thank in large part for this achievement, and I’m going to try and collect some thoughts together on precisely how this occurred and what it might mean in terms of a longer term trajectory.
As I think can probably be read in the tone of my first post about #AcWriMo when I was formulating my strategy, I was a bit cynical about the attempt. I mistrust the ‘group’ thing – facebook groups: disaster, music groups: too many egos, book groups: hot air, group therapy: somebody shoot me. I am also very bad at strategising, I’m more of a nose follower than rational planner. I am also deeply suspicious of routines, and their everyday oppressions.
And so here was this thing bringing all these other things together.
However, I was nothing short of desperate.
Through a combination of circumstances some more within my control than others, I had found myself at the beginning of the academic year 2012 with three months in which to turn my first draft into a final draft. With my thesis, that was a process that had taken the best part of six months alongside the demands of a full time job. And at this point in time I was still planning to conduct new research which would need to be completed, analysed and written into a new concluding chapter.
The rest of the book could not really continue without this process coming first. It wasn’t like the thesis, which is rather like a large and unruly jigsaw puzzle for which you’ve mislaid the completed picture: you mess around with lots of pieces for a long time until they start to take some kind of sensible form, then you work at that form until the picture emerges. I found the book more like painting a picture: you need to have a decent idea of where it is ending up before you first put brush to canvas.
In retrospect I do not think I would have completed this extra research work in time, so it was perhaps fortunate that I was let down by the person who I was working with to access participants for it. At the time however, this threw me into some disarray. Re-thinking things at the 11th hour: not good.
So, I reached November and I was still only on Draft 2. Draft One had been about cutting. Draft Two was now about making sense of what I had left. I had something that looked like a Storify account: bits and pieces cut and pasted together. It needed a narrative. It needed me to start at Page One and progress: I am born. I grow up.
At this point I had about 50,000 usable words. So I figured I needed about another 20,000. My #AcWriMo strategy therefore was 15,000 for November, leaving me a little in reserve for Draft Three and beyond. I set myself a target of 2 hours per day, and 300 words per hour.
Then I discovered the Accountability document: A sublime piece of panoptic self-surveillance, of which Bentham himself would be rightfully proud. It watched over me, disciplined me; I aspired to please it. Although I only found 1 hour a day with any regularity I had found an energy which I had eluded me since handing in my thesis. I was writing words that I was happy with for the first time in 3 years, and I was producing them at a rate that far surpassed the 1000 words that was my daily PhD milestone.
Still, I felt like I was not doing enough. And I was not sure how long I could meet the demands of the routine I had set myself.
One day I was travelling in to work on the train. We were held up just outside Manchester, and as I looked at the grey November morning outside, the frustration rose up inside me like fire: how dare this train sit so close yet so far from where I need to be, getting on with things. That magic first hour of the day that I had reserved for writing was ebbing from me minute-by-minute. I tweeted something to this effect. A moment later a fellow #AcWri-ter tweeted back, asking whether I could get anything done on the train. For some considerable time I had used this 45 minute train journey to read things that were not work related: it was my space, my time. However this was to change, and this single comment prompted in me the means with which I could shake the oppressive bonds of my routine, and find a new way to ‘be’ that made something both productive and personally satisfying out of my daily occupation.
In retrospect – in the four weeks or so since I was tweeped into action, in which time I completed drafts three, four and five of my book, before spellchecking, typesetting, and submitting (oh, and submitted two papers to journals) – I have come to see my former insistence of ‘my space, my time’ as a form of escapism. It was keeping me sane in a world which was threatening to drive me in. By the very desperation through which I was prompted into action, I have shaken the bonds of my writing routines, and find I am now able to write almost anytime, anyplace, anywhere (present example: I am writing this from my sister’s house, where my wife is currently carrying my very excited 4-year-old niece around upside down).
This in turn has not only allowed me to achieve the immediate task in hand, but has also unravelled the fundamental sense of alienation from my labours that was everyday deepening my sense of doctoral nostalgia. I find that I am now suddenly very satisfied with where I am and with my future prospects. I am hopeful and ambitious again.
However, I am also physically exhausted. I have been working for 12-15 hours a day every day almost without fail for about 6 weeks; mostly this included weekends as well.
I am absolutely not going to do that in the long run.
So, first new year resolution will be a new strategy – how to chanel this spirit into a productive, satisfying, and sustainable design for the future.
Watch this space.
And, thank you to #AcWri and #AcWriMo for restoring my faith in the group thing, to @mystudiouslife for the Accountability Doc, and to @ccandhealth for the tweet that shook my writing foundations and helped me build something more solid.
Merry Christmas all, from my distractors.