November is Academic Writing Month, or #AcWriMo. Based on the ever-popular National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo) for writers of novels, #AcWriMo is hosted by PhD2Published and allows you to work towards a stated academic writing goal with the support of a huge online community of academic writers doing exactly the same thing.
I would encourage you to have a look at the #AcWriMo resources following the links above – there’s loads of really great stuff there, and a whole online community for mutual support – but I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about setting goals. A well-set goal can drive you forwards, focus your activities to get you where you need to be, and keep you motivated and enthusiastic. A badly-set goal is hard to reach (or even to know if you have reached it), and is, crucially, demotivating, defeating the whole purpose of setting it in the first place.
Compare these #AcWriMo goals set by fictional postgraduate researchers we’ll call Donald and Yasmin:
Donald: “I will write every day for #AcWriMo.”
Yasmin: “I will spend a minimum of 20 minutes every week day writing some words towards a first draft of my journal article manuscript. #AcWriMo”
Donald’s goal is very laudable. It aligns perfectly with advice to write often (given by this very blog, and elsewhere). At first glance, it seems to be do-able and it’s nice and straight-forward. But Donald is struggling. The first couple of days went OK, and he produced 1000 words or so for a report his supervisor needed. But once that was done, he wasn’t sure quite what to write after that, and the next couple of days slipped. The next Monday he vowed to re-start, and for a few days all went well, but then he had a lot of lab work to do and set his writing aside to focus on that. These patterns continued for a couple of weeks, but by now, he’s missed so many days that it doesn’t really seem worth continuing.
Yasmin, on the other hand, is doing well. Her goal is very similar to Donald’s in essence – she has planned to write every day. However, she’s taken a bit more time to pin down exactly what she’s aiming towards, and given herself the weekends off. She’s doing much better. Most days she has been able to find 20 minutes to write (some days more) and although the quality and quantity of the work varies, she can start to see her draft manuscript taking shape. She’s missed a couple of days, but she is motivated to continue as she’s made some real progress already and wants to carry on.
A good goal or objective is SMART. There are a few variations on this acronym, but this is a useful one for research and writing:
- Specific: detail exactly what you’re going to do. For #AcWriMo, you might think about what you’re going to write about; how many words you want to achieve; how long you can dedicate to it each day.
- Measurable: how will you know when you’ve done it? A specific number of words or time period could be useful here, or a specified finished product.
- Achievable: this is an important one. Very important. Be realistic about what you’re going to do. It’s no good aiming to write a whole thesis in a month. You won’t find 2 hours every day. If you want to set yourself a stretch goal, stretch it carefully.
- Relevant: set yourself a goal which is going to get you where you need to go. You might need to look at the bigger picture here. Look at your over-arching priorities and set a goal which clearly moves you forward towards these.
- Time-bound: for #AcWriMo, this is pretty much defined as “November” but for other goals, make sure you have a set a deadline.
Have you set yourself an #AcWriMo goal? What other goals have you set for yourself?