Reflections on Academic Writing Month 2012

As AcWRiMo draws to a close, I thought it worth reflecting on, both about my own participation, and what it might tell us about the enterprise of academic writing more generally.

As it happened, on November 1st I was already in something of a purple patch with regard to my own book. I had tried a new approach (which I blogged about here) which was working very well indeed. It still is, and I don’t think I have written many more words this month than I would have otherwise. But I do think AcWRiMo has helped, in that there has been much and surprising mutual support via Twitter, as I and others have checked in to report progress day by day.

More broadly, AcWriMo has prompted much and interesting reflection on good practice for writing. Valuable posts for me included these from ThesisWhisperer and US Intellectual History, and several others that stressed the formation of a writing habit, by small daily steps. If AcWriMo becomes an annual fixture (which I hope it does), then it could hold open a space each year not only to make a determined effort at actual writing, but also to step back and think about what we do as academic authors, and how.

Two broader thoughts also present themselves. Firstly, as @jfwinters observed, AcWriMo has shown up a gap in general training provision for new graduate students. I remember a rather perfunctory graduate training course on how to structure a piece of work, but little on the day-to-day to discipline of getting words on paper. My strong impression is that if graduate students get any guidance at all, it is by the happy accident of having a supervisor who thinks it a priority, rather than because it is an integral part of learning the academic life.

Also, if we have AcWriMo, how about Friendly Peer Review Month (FrPeReMo) ? There have been a number of interesting ventures recently in Open Peer Review, in which peer review becomes an iterative process conducted in the open, as prelude (or even substitute) for formalised and anonymous peer review as managed by publishers. Part of the success of AcWriMo is that it makes one accountable to others. Why not extend the principle to some kind of mutual critique of written work (as writing) – the deal being “I’ll comment constructively on your writing if you will on mine” ? Thinking back, I don’t think anyone at all (apart from my supervisor) read my thesis before it reached proof-reading stage, and I’m sure it would have been better if they had. I need not be able to comment on the content of your writing, but I can surely come to it purely as a reader, and a fellow writer.

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