Wednesday, November 26, 2014

#AcWriMo - Academic Writing Month (Part 3)

AmbivalenceAs #AcWriMo2014 winds down, I have mixed impressions of my success. I produced what I set out to (and then some), which is gratifying during such a busy time of year. As planned, I:
  • Completed and submitted a teaching enhancement grant application
  • Completed and submitted my first year self-report
  • Finished and submitted two in-progress papers (including my first solo-authored!)
  • Make significant progress on a (major) revise and resubmit invitation for my dissertation manuscript
I also submitted four conference abstracts (three with student co-authors), attended the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies conference to present two posters (one an Obesity & Eating Disorders SIG citation selection), and received word that my submission to the Society of Behavioral Medicine annual meeting was accepted as a paper presentation. All of this is fantastic, and I'm delighted to share the success with students.

Up next, I'll find out whether my department votes to keep me (i.e., the result of my first year report) on Tuesday, December 2nd; I'll hear about the teaching grant sometime before the end of the semester (December 16th). Manuscript submissions? As always, it's anyone's guess. (Though very nice to have them on someone else's plate, so they can linger for a while without complaint from me.) I hope to send the R&R off to co-authors for feedback in the next few days.

So why the ambivalence, if I met my goals? The goal that I didn't meet had much less to to with outcome than with process: I committed to writing for one hour per day (or two half hours), and as noted, I did not meet this goal 2-3 days per week. Even after recommitting to blocking out time, the MWF teaching/office hours/seminar schedule got the best of me. I did meet my goal on two of four Mondays and one of four Wednesdays and Fridays, which is decent considering everything else going on. But every blog, book, and tweet about being a productive writer, from productive writers, recommends a daily writing habit, and there is something alluring about such consistency. 

Perhaps what #AcWriMo has taught me is that I don't need daily writing to be "productive" at my desired level. I can continue to strive for this goal or knuckle down when I need to finish something, but beating myself up isn't necessary. Maybe relief, or disbelief, is manifesting as ambivalence? Either way, maybe it's time to lighten up.

Credit where it is due. I'm immensely grateful to Charlotte Frost at PhD2Published, who started the initiative, and to the hundreds of academics who posted tweets of progress and support. Especially @ATRWibben, @JosephsonJyl, and @iladylayla (aka the Global #AcWri Team) for their company and encouragement during writing episodes. Being part of the community has made the frenzy of #AcWriMo enjoyable. Sign me up for next year!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

#AcWriMo - Academic Writing Month (Part 2)

November. The first semester has hummed along at a steady clip for two months. I've had time to get to know colleagues, write and submit, run, and even relax a little. It seemed that I might achieve work-life balance after many years without it. 

Then, BAM - November! This is me on 11/14:
Let's review. I knew that it would be a busy month. I had decided to apply for a teaching grant (due 11/3) to buy materials for a new course. I'm traveling for a conference the weekend before Thanksgiving, and then again for the holiday, plus I agreed to  do a guest lecture on eating disorders in a sports psychology course. And that first year self-report, due the 24th, which needs to be drafted early enough that generous colleagues can provide feedback. So I needed to get ahead of the game. 

My #AcWriMo goals included a mix of necessary tasks and additional objectives, which I thought were reasonable:
  • Complete teaching enhancement grant
  • Complete first year self-report
  • Finish and submit two in-progress papers
  • Revise and resubmit dissertation manuscript
It started with the teaching grant application. Syllabus for a new course I've never taught, timeline, budget, proposal, and letter of support (which I wrote myself). Despite my head start, there was a bit of cramming the night before to make the pieces cohere. Fortunately, the eating disorders lecture occurred in the same week span as the same topic in my own courses, so there was only a bit of extra work there. Though I learned that four straight hours of teaching with no break = fatigue and the 10,000-step buzz from my FitBit by 1:00 pm. Conference poster is nearly done, I've made steady progress on the revision and first year report. And I submitted one of those in-progress manuscripts.

So where am I? The concrete achievements sound pretty good, except that the workload is catching up to me. I set a goal of writing for at least one hour every day, as I would really like to get into a daily writing habit. The first week went well; I skipped one day, but exceeded the total for the week. I realized that finishing the revisions for an invited resubmission is NOT reasonable, considering the work involved. So I edited that one to "address revise and resubmit invitation," which I can make progress on for the next few weeks. 

But this week, I skipped three days of writing - my teaching days, which are exceptionally busy, and require either early mornings or late evenings to squeeze in writing. One hour isn't that much, so I could have done this. Though I realized that I really, really enjoy having nights off during the week. Right now, I don't think I'm willing to spend two or three nights per week working. I've done it for years and I'm tired. I could feel guilty about this, but I think it's reasonable. I think about Tanya Golash-Boza's commitment to a 40-hour week and wonder if it's possible to achieve it as a junior faculty member. So I have to think of another way.

Some options include:
  • Spending less time on Twitter
  • Breaking the hour into 20-minute blocks
  • Closing the door after office hours, no matter who wants what
  • Accepting that MWF are not writing days
I don't like the first or the last; I get a lot from the academic support and suggestion network on Twitter, and I learn about valuable research in my area. And I'm not a quitter. So this week, despite travel, I will schedule time to write each day and commit to sticking with it. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

#AcWriMo - Academic Writing Month 2014 (Part 1)


It starts! November 1st marked Day 1 of Academic Writing Month - a month-long effort to set goals, work toward them, and hold yourself accountable. You can read the history and full instructions here; in brief, you set writing goals, identify your plan for accomplishing them, and check in each day using the publicly shared accountability spreadsheet. Many academics say that this burst of community-oriented writing invigorates them and increases their productivity. As this is my first year participating, it's a good time to (1) discuss goals, and (2) reflect on how to improve my writing process.

#1: Goals. November already is a busy month for me, so setting goals wasn't terribly difficult. Here are the ones I included on the accountability sheet:
  • Finish and submit a teaching enhancement grant (i.e., a proposal to earn extra money for teaching equipment and other resources)
  • Put the final touches on two nearly-done manuscripts, and submit both
  • Complete requested major revisions to my dissertation manuscript, and resubmit
  • Complete my first year faculty self-report (i.e., a summary of what I've done so far/why my institution should rehire me for year two/goals for next year)
The teaching grant and the self-report have hard deadlines, which are early and late in the month, respectively. (At the time of this post, I've already submitted the teaching grant. Hooray!) In the middle, I have two manuscripts that require a few hours each, and a set of major revisions that will take several days (at least). 

My plan is to focus one hour per day on writing, either all at once or split up into chunks. It's not much every day. But considering that teaching prep takes a good deal of time, and I have endless stacks of exams to grade this month, an hour every day will be an accomplishment. Writing here, counts, as well :)
#2: Process. I realized long ago that being a great writer takes more effort than I've been willing to give. For example, this excerpt from an advertisement for Hands On Writing sums up my process while in training (red = my edits):
This is how I (unrealistically) thought I would improve my academic writing back at the start of my PhD. Please feel free to laugh:
  • I write something. I send the first un-revised draft to somebody (usually) more senior than me asking for feedback. 
  • I will go to “track changes” and accept all of them automatically (so I save time). 
  • Write some more and re-do the feedback accept-all-changes step. 
  • Rarely - When the reviewer says it is good enough, read the document, try to find the 13498986 differences with my first draft so I can  learn some lessons for next time I have to write. 
  • Forget everything quite a lot the next day.
I internalized some basics, like how NOT to use a colon and striving to keep sentences short. And my academic writing has improved dramatically over the past few years; I can tell when I read others' writing and I find ways to improve clarity. But I wonder how much better my writing would be today had I paid more attention to the process during training. 

These days, I still rely on others' feedback. I'm rubbish at finding the holes in my own logic and even worse at spotting typos. So a good friend and I trade documents and give each other comments, which has been helpful. I also include my undergraduate students in the process, by encouraging them to compare early- and late-stage cooperative pieces and asking them to proofread for me. And I read as much as I can. I often read about writing, of course. 

But I've also recommitted to reading books, for several reasons. One of which is that staying immersed in others' writing helps me stay in tune with what writing should (or shouldn't) look like. I'm partway through David Quammen's Spillover (about zoonotic diseases) and William Deresiewicz's Excellent Sheep (about problems with higher education). Both informative and timely for entirely different reasons. (More to come on these, I suspect.)

It's Day Four of #AcWriMo, and I'm going strong. Fingers crossed that we all keep it up!