It’s the final week of #acwrimo, and I wanted to have a bit of a reflect on how the process has gone for me. I set off with some very elaborate plans, in the spirit of the thing, and it seemed like a good thing to have a pause and a think about the process before crossing the finish line.
I set myself a content-related goal and a time-related goal. I sincerely doubt I am going to make the content-related goal, which was to revise the introduction and first three chapters of my book manuscript. However, I have revised the first chapter, and am in the middle of revising the second chapter; I’m hoping to make a start on the third chapter before the end of the week (fingers crossed!). The thing that has taken me more time than I had expected is not the writing, but the additional reading I’ve needed to do. For instance, for the chapter one revisions, I needed to include a couple of paragraphs about the Roman concept of motherhood and what a Roman mother looks like – this is a bit of social history background that all my other chapters included, but my first chapter (which was the first thing I wrote for the PhD) had managed not to think important. (And this demonstrates, as if proof were needed, just how much better you get at writing as you do more of it.) This was also an area of scholarship that I knew was important but hadn’t really got to grips with before, so I needed to put together a bibliography before I could start doing any reading. And so, if you look at the Academic Writing Accountability Spreadsheet, you’ll see that I spent five days gathering citations and doing extra reading which, in the end, resulted in three extra paragraphs.
Similarly, you’ll see that I’ve spent three days reading a book on the life of freedmen in the Roman empire for chapter two. It’s a very important book that came out last year and that I need to acknowledge, but it’s all time that’s not been spent on doing actual writing or editing. The writing part has been surprisingly quick now that I’ve got through the slog of marking chapters up for editing – it only took me three days of work to finish the writing of chapter one. The need to read and inform my writing has taken me far longer than I thought it would; I had been aware of this trend in my work patterns, but actually documenting it has brought it into sharp relief.
But what of my other #acwrimo goal, to spend at least one hour every weekdayworking on revisions? That has, alas, not gone so well. This is in part because of having had a number of very full weekends which have disrupted my Mondays (and thus the rest of my week) more than I would have liked; but it is also because the Thursday and Friday of my weeks have been stuffed full with teaching. I have tried to keep an hour carved out for revision work – but so often it has been cut down to fifteen or twenty minutes or vanished entirely because of needing to meet students, attend meetings, plan teaching, write assessments and numerous other academic tasks associated with my job. It’s been salutary to make research the priority of my day rather than the add-on – but at the same time, it’s made it very clear how difficult it is to ringfence that time, even with the best of intentions.
I’m glad that I’m giving #acwrimo a go, and that I decided to set myself a higher challenge than I would have done otherwise. After all, if I keep on going at this pace I should have the material I wanted to have revised done by Christmas. But it’s also been a strong reminder of the challenges that we face as people who have seventy four different things jostling to be top priority, particularly when a number of them are students who are relying on our feedback to make progress themselves. It isn’t easy, but this process is helping me to be more aware of why it isn’t easy, and to be glad of making the most of challenging circumstances.