Why I participate in AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month)

It’s day seven of the second annual AcWriMo. I participated last year and joined upon seeing the conversations and support occurring on Twitter amongst PhD students, academics, and early career researchers from around the world. I was so inspired about the process that I have been an advocate shaking my pom poms for the cause to friends and colleagues who are researchers, writers and academics from various fields.

So why do I participate? AcWriMo is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact some have been outspoken about how they definitively do not agree with the pressure that such a process can put on an academic who is already under the pump to produce. I agree on the increasing pressures that surround academia and the outputs that must be produced. But, in acknowledging this, I also think that AcWriMo as a process supports the formation of goal setting, and most importantly, at least for me, allows me to focus on research areas that excite me and motivate me to produce publications. I have to write as part of my employment at a university, so as this is the case then I want to utilize the choice that is associated to this task.

I’ve been reading the book ‘Drive: The Surprising truth About What Motivates Us’ by Daniel H. Pink. There is a case presented early in the book about motivation – external verses internal and the connection to reward. It reminds me in many ways of Alfie Kohn’s ideas of Punish by Rewards. Pink discusses the value of goals and advises on the benefits of focus that assists in tuning out distractions, and how goals can assist us to try harder, work longer and achieve more. He presents the research from Harvard Business School who have questioned goals setting – that is who establishes and sets the goals has a huge impact on how those goals are set. Goals that are set by people themselves and that they are devoted to attain are good. However, those goals that are imposed by others can sometimes have a dangerous side effect. These are the goals   that come in the form of sales targets, quarterly returns, standardized test scores, benchmarks, and so on. Pink presents the case that does offer much thought. He states:

Like all extrinsic motivators, goals narrow our focus. That’s one reason they can be effective; they concentrate the mind. But as we’ve seen, a narrow focus exacts a cost. For complex or conceptual tasks, offering a reward can blinker the wide-ranging thinking necessary to come up with an innovative solution. Likewise, when an extrinsic goal is paramount –particularly a short-term, measurable one whose achievements delivers a big payoff – its presence can restrict our view of the broader dimensions of our behaviors…. substantial evidence demonstrates that in addition to motivating constructive effort, goal setting can induce unethical behavior. (Pink, 209, pp.48-49)

I have to write. If I wait for a pat on the back from my manager each time I produce and publish then I’ll find myself in an awkward position…. and in silence. When I think about it, I don’t actually need this, although I am indoctrinated to think that I do. In changing my thinking about this, my motivation comes from me. I’m happy when I write something that contributes to the field. I’m happy when I write something that makes sense and contributes to the discussion.  I’m excited when someone tells me they have read my work and wants to chat about ideas that have emerged for them. I love to inspire change, ideas and possibilities in others. These are my motivators that come from me initially setting goals to write, producing a text and having it accepted for publication. If participating in AcWriMo assists me in achieving this then I think it is a supportive process.

As I’ve shared before, planning is a crucial part of this process. I plan to write each day. In order for this to move my thinking and planning from a decision to an action I have blocked out every morning in my diary for the month of November. I know this is the best time of the day for me to write. I’m the most productive before my mind is distracted by other ideas and tasks.  Each day I write I know what I’m focusing on. The goals I have set align with my planning of time. Ultimately I want to meet my overall goals, but these in turn need breaking down so they are achievable.

This process sets me up for my writing pattern beyond AcWriMo. In some ways it is a fresh reminder of setting clear writing goals and achieving these for all year round, instead of being distracted by other projects. AcWriMo is like my spring clean. November becomes my most productive month to tie up loose ends in my writing, and to dedicate time to write up the research I have undertaken but as yet is still sitting in piles on my desk or on my desktop in files labeled with ideas that have emerged over the past months. Writing becomes my main focus in November.  What I really love is that I achieve so much that I just want to keep it going. What happens is that I’m excited by the work I’m doing. It is not a chore so I don’t think about it as work. It is an absolute bonus that it assists me in meeting my research output established by the university I work for, but this is not at all my key driver. My motivation is to share the exciting work I have been doing…and in my case this is often with young people who are just so fascinating in what they see and say.


Why do you participate in AcWriMo?

Why do you not want to participate in AcWriMo?


Other links of interest:

What AcBoWriMo 2011 (Academic Book Writing Month) has taught me….

 A writing challenge – the first AcBoWriMo has been announced

 Announcing AcWriMo!


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