#AcWriMo is once again almost here! #AcWriMo is Academic Writing Month, and it’s based on the concept of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, which challenges participants to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. #AcWriMo is run by Charlotte Frost at PhD2Published.com and you can find out all about it, including details of how to sign up, HERE.
When you first sign up to #AcWriMo, you are asked to declare your goals for the month, and set out a (brief) plan, and these are then publically posted on the Accountability Spreadsheet for all to see. If you scroll down the spreadsheet to line 91* you will see that my goal for this #AcWriMo is:
Submit finished book manuscript (aim = November 14)
Start working on Fellowship proposal
Start working on Book no. 2 proposal
(Edited to add: Also, to blog about my research and #AcWriMo, goal is 1 blog post per week)
And my plan is:
Write every day (including weekends). Time/words not important - quality more important.
But I wanted to say a little bit more about what I want to achieve this November, how I am going to hopefully do it, and why I like #AcWriMo (although I’m terrible at filling in the accountability spreadsheet, this will by my third year!)
So: what do I want to do?
Finish my book! I had originally planned to already have the manuscript in now, but things don’t always go as you plan in the world of #acwri, and this certainly has not! When I first started thinking about turning my PhD into a monograph** I didn’t envision adding as much new material as I have ended up adding. My planned ‘half a chapter’ of new stuff has turned into two chapters of new and old-but-significantly-re-evaluated material. I think I am very close to finishing all of this off, and I am aiming to submit the manuscript on November 14th. That’s my mum’s birthday, the 12-month anniversary of my viva, and also falls during Academic Book Week. This will be my top priority for work and writing for the first two weeks of #AcWriMo.
Work on my Research Proposal! Like pretty much everyone else I have an idea (that I think is pretty good) for the next major research project. While I have done a lot of work on my proposal in the last 9-ish months, I think there is always room to do some more, to edit bits into different length-and-intensity sections for different kinds of proposal applications. I have two main fellowship applications that I want to make a start on, including getting a short-form email-ready version of the project done. This will be the top priority for the third week of #AcWriMo.
Work on my (next) book proposal! I have been talking to an editor about this project recently, and I am quite excited about it. This book will stem much more directly from my PhD/first book than the ‘next big project’, and I have done much of the preliminary, background research already. While getting the actual book together will take some time, I think it’s well within my capability to get it done! This will be my top priority for the final week of #AcWriMo.
On top of that, I want to blog at least once a week about what I’m doing, and maybe also about some interesting tidbits of research. I am planning a Halloween post, which I think (as a scholar of Underworld gods!) it would be remiss of me not to do!
As for my plan… looking though the Spreadsheet you’ll notice that different people include very different amounts of detail in their plan, and mine is probably one of the simpler ones. I know that I don’t work well under word-pressure (that is, a target of words written), and while I tend to meet the target it’s more likely that those words will be not-as-good-as-they-could-be. I don’t mind working to a time-target, but my timetable is such that it’s impossible to set a general ever-day time-target – I can manage nearly a full day of writing on Mondays, for example, but I teach for four hours on a Friday. So I am just going simple. Write. Write every day. Quality over quantity.
And, that’s it – that’s how I hope to achieve the things I have set for myself this #AcWriMo! If you’ve got some academic writing to crack on with, why not consider signing up too!
* I’m assuming that the lines are fixed by the date and time you sign up, and don’t shift around…
** I mean thinking seriously about the ins and outs of the thing, because who doesn’t think about turning their PhD into a book in the very first week of their PhD?!? (Assuming you’re in a book field, that is).
I’ve been reflecting on teaching recently, a combination of the start of term (and a fresh batch of undergrad rookies), preparing to submit an application for Fellowship to the HEA, and writing cover letters.
While the teaching of my BA wasn’t bad, it was largely traditional. There were some wonderful outlying seminars (predominately taught by Jane Griffiths, who was the entire Classical Studies programme when I began by degree), but it mostly followed the ‘canonical method’: lectures, seminars mainly consisting of group discussion with ‘reporting back’ at the end. The first seminars I taught, when still an undergraduate myself, followed the same pattern. I didn’t think much about teaching method or how and why I should or could change this ‘tried and true’ formula.
Fast-forward many years, the award of three degrees, and many more hours of leading seminars. Last week my two-weeks-into-uni ‘Intro to Ancient History’ classes wrote newspaper articles about Greek tyrants using select bits of Herodotos as sources. I was very open with the style, format, and perspective they took, and specified they should be around 400 words in length. These were done in groups, ranging from 2 to 5 people in size, and students were able to self-select into the group they wanted to (we focused on Periander, Polycrates, and Peisistratos). I suggested a few things, but largely left the groups to their own devises, for around 30 minutes. These obviously weren’t meant as assessable pieces of writing. The range of responses I got back was astounding! Daily Mail-style sensationalist exposé, Onion-esque political satire, serious political journalism, a BuzzFeed list. These young students were not only thinking critically about Herodotos as a source, but deconstructing the way the he put his narrative together, and – critically, I think – writing about a primary source.
I am a huge advocate of ‘doing’ Ancient History. What I think my job as a seminar leader is all about is enabling students – even first-years with no Classics or Ancient History A-levels – to get in a actually ‘do’ ancient history as soon as possible, at the appropriate level. One of the things I felt was lacking in my own undergraduate degree is the idea of writing as practice. Just writing essays or exam scripts is not enough. Students should be used to writing in all kinds of different styles about both ancient sources and scholarship. Most, if not all, of this ‘extra’ writing shouldn’t be formally assessed. That’s not the point. The point is to practice thinking though specific aspects of a source and writing it out into your own words. Writing in your own words leads to greater understanding of sources (see, for instance, this list of strategies for critical reading. Note, number five: ‘Outlining and summarizing: Identifying the main ideas and restating them in your own words’).
By giving students access to a wide-range of ancient and modern sources; by showing them a way of reading those sources, of getting the information they need out of those sources, of getting them to figure out the strengths and limitations of those sources and how to fit those sources together – all of this leads to a constant ‘doing’ of ancient history. From writing newspaper articles to research dissertations, from reading small passages of Homer to reading the Wall Street Journal (because, after all, most of our students will not go on to further study, but the skills they learn in our classrooms are still important for the ways they approach their lives and the various kinds of texts that pepper life).
When, at the end of the newspaper writing activity, I prompted the classes to reflect on what they had gained from it, the range of thoughtful responses that came back at me was astounding. Students said that in that half an hour they rethought about Herodotos as an historian, they felt they were more able to pick out the reality and the ‘fantasy’ in his writing, and felt more aware of the limitations of the genre of ancient historiography.
The week before I’d asked them to go home and watch Tobias Menzies reading part of the Iliad, from the British Museum/Almeida reading during the summer. I wanted them to think about the orality and aurality of Homer, and think about the context of genre. I wonder how much this helped them recast Herodotos from ‘reliable historian’ into ‘text we need to read critically’. A few students did mention that they were more conscious of thinking though genre and author-intention after watching the Iliad reading, and I’m sure this must have had some influence on them during the Herodotos article activity.
I’m looking forward to this week, and looking at a whole different kind of text with them – some Near Eastern texts, including the wonderful Cyrus Cylinder!
And, of course, continual reflection on my own teaching. As, I suspect, academics are wont to do.
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