AcWriMo* is over. Thank goodness (you could choose even a stronger word!). I struggled to fulfill my pledge to write every day. I did it though, with only one day of not meeting my goal of a minimum of 500 words. Most—though not all of my struggles—were about getting ready to write, not the writing itself. I came to realize it was because I have too much unstructured time on my hands in retirement—time that I am still learning how to fill productively.
My work with clients has slowed down as it neared the end of the academic term, so I was not doing as much editing as normal. We are mostly unpacked from our move, so no longer was it dawn till dusk unpacking boxes and putting things away. The steady pace of tradespersons slowed during November, with just a few electricians and carpenters visiting. Even the knitting projects I pursued went quickly and only took a few hours over one week to complete.
No, the struggle to write was almost all internal: how to motivate myself to sit down and get some work done when I don’t have a deadline from a publisher, I don’t have students anxious to have their assessment returned, nor do I have a due date to an administrator looming in front of me. I would put off writing because I knew I was still working ideas out in my head. But AcWriMo 2019 taught me that I can (and should) write in order to work out those ideas. Putting words to paper (or rather, on a screen) helped to clarify my thoughts and create a better outline for the monograph.
I learned that I can—all too easily—disappoint myself but I am loath to let down someone else who is depending on me (oddly, I only knew one person in the AcWriMo group, but that feeling of relationship triumphed over other feelings). So I would often end up writing in the last few moments of the morning before heading out to run errands instead of the promise that writing would be the very first thing I would do in the morning.
And it’s not just how and when to schedule my writing, it’s life right now. I’m struggling—not with the meaning of my life now that I am retired, but with how to structure my days. Just this weekend we talked about needing a timetable for household chores—that we haven’t established a workable routine in our new house.
I don’t think my struggles are unique. Research often encourages individuals to routinize common tasks as one way to increase productivity. Some ways to routinize behaviors are to add them to one’s calendar, to conduct a weekly review of activities in order to assess how well one’s plan was implemented, and to work with an accountability partner. AcWriMo’s genius is that it is structured to address at least two of these techniques—write daily, and usually, share your intentions and your progress with others, via a shared spreadsheet or some other means of accountability. Many AcWriMo leaders encourage at least once a week those who are participating, offering writing advice and urging people who fell short one week to do better next week.
As someone who has been both a leader/participant of a campus AcWriMo program and just a participant the last two years, what I have realized is that planning and accountability are necessary but not sufficient for (my) writing productivity. Successful individuals routinize the behaviors (writing, reviewing their activity, and accountability) because they are motivated to do so. And the person’s motivation to write has to be stronger than other motivations—including inertia.
That’s where ultimately, everything comes down to the individual writer-to-be. What external motivators (e.g., tenure, promotion, more financial security, wanting to move, etc.) impact your ability to (want to) write productively? Can you leverage them in a way that helps you to sit down and write instead of letting them paralyze you? Are there routines that you can implement (here is mine) which can move you into your personal “writing zone?” Sometimes that means creating new ways to process the mounds of grading you must do or to cut down on committee service in favor of making time to write. So be it.
But there are also internal motivators which can help or hinder each of our writing. What insights can you and only you share with readers, based on your academic training? Are you afraid to share your thoughts? Or paralyzed by the possible judgement of your readers, and so would rather not write at all than let your thoughts go into the public square? What motivation do you need to overcome your inertia (be in binge-watching your favorite show or impeachment-mania or the need to always read “just one more thing” before you start writing, etc.)?
So now it’s December…and I am still writing. Not always as much as I’d like, but AcWriMo helped me to realize that yes, I have something to say about the decline of civility in the US. Moreover, I’ve realized that I need to write it down and be willing to share it—with a publisher and eventually (I hope) with readers. I’ve learned that I don’t have to write the manuscript from word one to the last paragraph before the references—writing sections out of order is still writing. And that’s what’s important.
Staring at a blank screen utterly frustrated me during November. I need to spill out my thoughts—unpolished as they are right now—as a way to work through my arguments. Having “mental debates” without actually writing what they are and how I resolved them, will never advance the book project. Any writing about the topic is better than no writing.
So while I am glad AcWriMo 2019 is over, it taught me a lot about myself and how I need to work. And that’s always a good thing. And the organizer of the AcWriMo group I participated in said she plans three more AcWriMo months in 2020. Count me in; see, I have something to say and I want to say it.
*AcWriMo is the international academic movement where scholars pledge to write every single day in the furtherance of one or more writing projects.
Please visit the Pedagogical Thoughts website to contact me about institutional or individual consulting, dissertation editing, or coaching about writing.