Tag Archives: AcWriMo

Beings and Becomings

Human beings are always in a state of becoming something else.

This might be true for other types of being as well, but, alas, I am no neuro psychologist, so know little of the ways of monkeys, rats and the like. So we’ll stick to humans. And possibly there is something in the distinctive evolution of our consciousness that makes this a particularly human fact. Nevertheless, any living matter is constantly changing, growing, maturing, flowering, then wilting, decaying, dying.

Hmm. This wasn’t supposed to be so serious.

The bit of human beings that interests me today though is identity, and it is in this sense which I say, we are never something, because as soon as we are conscious of ‘being’ something, our internal and external worlds collide and we become something else. Lots of people disagree with me on this one – those psychologists, again, most of them definitely do. But then, many of their ideas lose their foothold if they cannot begin with a relatively stable, static concept of identity, so I guess they have something vested in keeping that idea around.

Thinking about ourselves as constantly both being and becoming requires us to step outside this conventional understanding of being as something fixed and stable, to instead see being as a dynamic set of actions, processes, relations, aspirations, and, of course limitations. Many ethnographers get around the problem of being by talking about a set of doings; seeing culture at its most elemental, as collective practice.

I think about these things regularly, it’s a perspective that lives in me, and everything that I write is presupposed by these ideas. But in practice such a perspective can make for a deeply unsettling experience.

Well. I’ve changed.

A facile enough statement given the preceding paragraphs; but of course I have.

But this is different. Or at least it would be different if I were not so cynical.

Happy New Year!

I didn’t make any resolutions.

I don’t believe in them. They articulate a sense of what I want to be. A new me. What I am not.

Yuk. Aspiration presupposed by self abjection. Just what they want us to think.

Actually I did make one resolution, not to take sugar in my tea anymore, but this was for the sake of my teeth. I now drink about twice as much tea. That’s the thing with resolutions. They prompt a different set of doings.

So. When I got to this new year in the style I did; that is, on the back of an achievement of which I was very proud, I was very careful not to say: “Right! This is it. I’m something else. Now I have to live up to it. I’ve done this before and it has never worked out.

The thing is, something has changed. I’m doing things in a manner I don’t recognise. Not just don’t recognise fully, I’m not looking at one of those infuriating spot the difference puzzles. This is fundamental.

Hang on.

Nothing is fundamental.

Damn.

What I cannot stop tying myself in knots trying to say is that I am enjoying my working life much more than I accustomed to. Beyond that, I could not be happier with it. There’s loads of it – there always is – but this is no longer something that makes me feel disconsolate, anxious, stressed, guilty – all self defeating things which will allow that endless shit to pile up and become even more unmanageable.

No. Now I just get on with it.

And enjoy it.

I love it in fact.

*Suddenly* I find myself no longer looking upon what I do as a set of compromises resulting in continuous frustration, constantly looking back to something I thought I had better.

And I don’t know what it is. And I don’t want to. If I worked out what it was I would swiftly find some way of destroying it.

For now I will just enjoy it. But not be content with it; no surer synonym for death than contentment.

My as yet unsure and not-wanting-to-be-made cautiously optimistic appraisal of this situation is that recent experience has given me a massive boost in confidence and I am currently riding the crest of a wave. And while I have got the book out of the way for now, I still have a very severe set of deadlines ahead of me, and that has always been a good motivator as well. But even that has changed. There’s no anxiety, I just think I can do it and so I get on with it.

Yeah, it’s the confidence thing isn’t it. Some kind of honeymoon period. It can’t last. I mean, for all my rambling about dynamic sense of self, I actually have a very fixed and essential idea of myself as doing certain things in certain ways. As being good at some things and not at others. Well I’m currently being good at things that I am not accustomed to being good at and it has upset this sense. And the only way I can hold onto any fixed point in this swirling mess is to believe that it is temporary and as soon as circumstance allows I will return to being what I thought I was.

While I can reflect and see that this is the most repulsive piece of binary self othering, I can’t seem to stop performing it on myself.

Pride comes before a fall you know.

But all the while I am wondering, not quite hoping, too cautious for that, just wondering, quietly, to myself.

What if?

Well. If.

It took me about 2.5 years to get used to the idea of a PhD and myself as someone capable of doing one – by which time I was about six months from completion.

‘If what it might be turns out to be…etc…Well, then it will have taken me about four years to get used to the idea of a post doc career and myself as someone capable of doing it, and doing it well.

At this rate, the first 5 or so years as a senior fellow will really suck.

 

 


#AcWriMo Reflections

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.

Yes.

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.

photo-5


#AcWriMo Update

So, it turns out routines can be fun!

Having said that, I actually strayed from my original plan on the about the first day and have not actually been able to enact it in its purest form once. But that’s not important right? The important thing is that I have kept to ‘a’ routine, a very productive one. I will probably not make my original targets, but this is partly because my plans have changed a bit as to how I’m going to organise my time between now and the end of December; book hand in day. I have also managed to get more writing done this month than I have in the 3 previous combined. And for the most part I’ve been pretty happy with what I’ve written. Not all of it for sure. There is one section which I am particularly nervous about and might take out altogether, but I was deliberately trying not to be too precious with what I wrote down, just getting it down was the priority.

So my actual working routine has looked more like this:

7am Wake up (6am was just not going to work)

7.30am Leave house

9am Arrive at work. Start writing.

10am Stop writing. Start day job.

6pm Leave work.

7.30pm Arrive home. Live.

11-12pm Go to sleep

I couldn’t get up at 6am mostly because I was finding I wasn’t able to get to sleep till about midnight most nights. This is partly because I go swimming most evenings, and this leaves me pretty far from sleep – though a really hot bath seems to help. But I think it was also a general level of stimulation that really just needed me to be able to loaf around a bit in the evening and do nothing in order to let my brain rest a bit after my day.

Unfortunately this extra hour in bed meant an hour less of writing per day, so I generally only managed 1 hour. I think on my worst day this yielded about 300 words, and on my best just over 1000. In the longer term if I can keep this kind of routine going then I think about 500 words per day would be a realistic target. I have done my best to make up the rest on quieter days in the office and on weekends, and in this I have been moderately successful. I was also pleased to find that there was more that I wanted to keep in the book drawn from what I had originally written for my PhD, sometimes re-written, sometimes just a highlight attached to a chunk of text and a little ‘to do’ note beside it.

Now that I have my introduction, theory and method chapter written I am kind of between a first and second draft. The first half is all second draft the second half is all first draft.

This  is why my plans have changed a bit, and even though I know it is the chapter that needs the most work, rather than write my conclusion now, I want to go through the remaining chapters first and see what else is going to need updating, before I get to the conclusion. Though this potentially leaves me with more writing to do torwards the death, I think it is important to be attacking this thing from start to finish, after all, it does help if the conclusion flows logically from the preceding chapters right?

So, sticking with my same routine, I am now looking not so much for ‘words written’ but ‘pages edited’. I have no idea how many pages per hour I will be able to get through, I guess that depends on how much work they need. But I would really like to be ready to re-draft the conclusion by the end of the month. This then leaves me about two weeks to write the conclusion and have a complete run through, then another two weeks to do the real i dotting t crossing work to prepare for submission. Minus about 3 days for christmas.

I know this is still a shit load to try and get done in the time. But I have a new found stream of confidence running through my sea of neurosis, thanks mostly to the #AcWriMo initiative, and particularly the online accountability spreadsheet on which you fill in your daily tally. The Foucauldian in me revels in this kind of self imposed discipline; with such constraints comes incalculable freedoms.

Oh and I managed the day job as well.