Post-#AcWriMo

Did everyone survive #AcWriMo? Did everyone know that they were inadvertently doing #AcWriMo and then someone mentioned it in their staff common room and they nodded along and said “oh yes, I am totally doing #AcWriMo” and then rushed to check what #AcWriMo was and signed up convinced that “this time, I am going to make it”?

I signed up for #AcWriMo only three days after it had started, so I have to say, I was not told by a colleague about it and then lied about doing it as the intro paragraph suggests. I did do it until the end – but I have to confess I have not gone back to the original website to introduce my results and kiss my biceps in the process for having achieved my objectives. I could have, but I was too lazy to do so. I went back to the list I had prepared in my notebook on the same day I signed up for it, saw that I achieved my minimum requirements, and then forgot about it. The job is done, so to speak, so why bother procrastinating over stats.

It was a good month for academic writing from a personal perspective, as the second day of December I submitted a substantial piece of the chapter I am writing. Supervisors were happy with it, and as usual, okay’d me to go ahead and just keep writing. I was also involved in two presentations, which I had to prepare specifically. Whilst the chapter is roughly about 8,000 words at the moment (with bibliography and all the footnotes, which means the actual text is probably no more than 6,000), the two presentations piled up to a total of 5,000 words. The total for November, then, is around 13k. I am happy with that. That was the whole point of #AcWriMo in essence: to write like there was no December.

The problem is, there IS a December. And just because you have writing your body weight in words for an entire month, that doesn’t grant you permission to stop writing on the first of December until the next marathon begins. I mean, you can. But it sort of defeats the purpose of it, much like losing to the bottom teams of a league due to lack of effort defeats the purpose of beating the top teams in epic battles.

I find it hard, however, to motivate myself to write after a big write-a-thon. With all the effort that surviving November took, and the good feedback that my supervisors have given me about my work, my body’s natural reaction is to bask on the smugness of success, and find good reasons not to do any work. “Oh, but I wrote 8,000 words in November, leave me alone”, my brain cries. “Even if I don’t write a single word for the next three weeks, I will still have an average of 4,000 words in a month”, well yes, brain, but this is not how it works. This only leads to guilt trips, brain, and you know this.

So two days ago, after having taken many, many days off, I decided to break the vicious circle of smugness, and started writing again. I am not sure I am succeeding at not “basking too much” on my smugness, but at least opening the document for a couple of hours, forcing myself to look at it and get the ideas flowing, I am doing better than not looking at it at all. Between the post-#AcWriMo deflation and the Christmas lull, I have made it into a really lazy December, so baby steps to correct that attitude is the best I can do right now. So that #AcWriMo actually serves a purpose and I don’t lose any points/words against bottom placed teams/non-Twitter frenzied academic writing branded months.

So that’s the plan for now!

Challenging one’s ideas

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in my home turf in Glasgow. It was a great opportunity to meet new scholars, renew and update my connections with scholars I already knew, and enjoy the terrible weather that G-town was putting out for us (“no, no, it’s not a gale force wind, this is just your average morning air, I promise!”). This was also my last chance to hang out with fellow Catalan scholars before the big move to Australia – next year is looking like a Skype videoconference presentation for me.

This was a much different experience to the other two conferences I attended in Manchester and Cork. First of all because, despite the fact I was not necessarily involved in the organisation of the event, being the only presenter from Glasgow, I took up host duties, like ensuring that the IT was working, giving general directions, and being the chair to two panels, which forced me to do something I rarely do in presentations – ask insightful questions! Second, because my presentation was slightly different than last year. Last year everyone loved my paper and there were no critical comments, only encouragement to talk more about the subject. This gave me an unrealistic sense of self-worth that was to be shattered only several months after, when the review of the article on which my presentation was based came back with tones of petty commentaries and a rejection note. But the presentation in itself was great, only it was almost a bucolic scenario that it took a while to get out from.

My presentation this year went well again, but I included some stronger, challenging ideas, mostly the product of knowing my topic better and being able to have a stance on it, and I knew that the way in which I chose to portray my findings and arguments could be contentious. And bang, they were. At question time, the initial questions were like last year’s: non-offensive, tell-me-more style. Then someone asked a question that critiqued the basis of my argument. Which is fair enough, there is not one size fits all when it comes to studying culture and literature: you are forced to take a ‘partisan’ position, and I am aware of that. His views were confronting mine, of course, but it was good for my development to attempt to counterbalance his point. I had to admit to the audience that he was right – because he was, to a certain extent. I felt very much challenged, but within a positive environment: it wasn’t as if he had stood up just to destroy my presentation. I thanked him and we moved on.

Later at lunch, he came to apologise for having put me in the spot, his argument being that he finds that “some of these conferences ask very bland questions, and I wanted to spark some saucy debate”. I knew it was all done in good spirits, and I wasn’t expecting an apology, but I suppose this is good, just to make sure that I took the question and the challenge in the right way. It is also good to keep up the academic relationship, as he belongs to my institution and he is a likely candidate to be my internal examiner. I spoke to my supervisor at lunch, and I told her that I thought the challenge was very positive, on the basis that now I know where he is at, theory-wise, so I can build my methodology chapter more mindfully, making sure I do not take things for granted, and that my arguments are convincing. My supervisor even said “you could come up with a particular terminology for this field based on a critique of the current methodology, which will give additional impact to your thesis”. This is somehow what I plan on doing, although I seriously doubt my terminology will change the world of Translation Studies – but without this challenge, I wouldn’t have thought of coming up with different, more well-rounded methodology.

Since that conference, I have been immersed in writing a chapter of the thesis that has little to do with this terminology, but I am coming up towards the moment in which I need to build the theoretical background in which my argument is based. And I look forward to developing my new, challenged ideas in an environment in which they can grow. And I can then expose them to the public again, and get them challenged, and move on from then.

Ps. I survived #AcWriMo with a whooping 8,000 words. But that’s material for another post!