#acwrimo progress report

It’s been just over a week since AcWriMo 2013, the month-long academic writing bonanza super party, started, so I figured it was a good time for a check-in on my progress this month.

In my last post, I outlined three goals for the month:

  1. Spend at least 30 minutes a day (6 days a week) on research or research writing.Since this is a bit longer than a pomodoro, I’m calling each 30 minutes I spend a “research sprint”.
  2. Finish all of the major experiments that I need for my grant resubmission. (And write up the results as I go along.)
  3. Draft an outline/plan for the rest of the grant narrative revisions. I have a tentative outline at this point, but I’d like to flesh it out more fully so that I can just start filling in the blanks in December.

Goal #1 means I should have 10 writing/working sessions under my belt right now, or 300 minutes if we’re counting that way. I’ve done 8 sessions for a total of 280 minutes (thanks to a couple of longer sessions on days I could squeeze that in). So I’m fairly close on that one. Which is great, because honestly, the biggest challenge this time around has been finding that 30 minutes of time to squeeze in some research. (More on that in a bit.)

Goal #2 has been going slowly. Very, very slowly. See, the experiments I need to do are the hard ones. I’m in the part of this project where I’ve grabbed all the low-hanging fruit and finished the initial proof-of-concept, which means I’m now trying to address some of those harder questions. As far as I can tell, I’m in fairly new territory in terms of what I’m trying to accomplish, and the path forward is rarely clear. I try things, they fail, I spin my wheels for a bit trying to figure out what to do next. I know that this is in fact productive, in the sense that I’m ruling out things that aren’t going to work, but with a grant submission deadline looming it’s hard not to panic. I know from experience that I just need to keep plugging away and that the “breakthrough” will occur, but it’s so easy to get demoralized when everything you do seems to fail or lead to a dead end.

Goal #3….well, let’s not even talk about that one, because I haven’t addressed it yet.

So I’m making progress, but it’s hard and it’s slow. This AcWriMo feels much, much harder than last year’s AcWriMo, and I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. A big part of it is the time crunch. With being chair and with my big external service responsibilities (which all seem to be coming to a head in the next 2 weeks, ugh!) and with the new course prep and not having a grader to help out in my classes, I’m completely swamped. 30 minutes of research is indeed a luxury these days, and some days I just can’t make it work without sacrificing (even more) sleep or eating or running (which is really the only thing keeping me sane these days). I also was reminded after re-reading my mid-term AcWriMo evaluation from last year that I was sick and injured, so I wasn’t running or doing much exercise at all….which, magically, freed up my early morning time for writing and research. With that in mind, the fact that I’ve been mostly successful at finding some time to work despite all the other demands on my time is something I should be very proud of.

The other reason this year feels harder than last year has to do with the nature of the work I need to do. Last year I had very concrete tasks to complete: Finish the narrative draft. Finish drafts of the supplementary documents for the grant. Write a conference talk. These are things I can easily check off. This year my main task, finishing my grant experiments, is less well-defined and more fluid, so it’s harder to quantify “progress”. I am not sure when I will be finished, because I’m not sure what I’ll find. So I don’t get the satisfaction of crossing something concrete off the list—rather, each finished experiment leads to 3-4 more things added to the list.

Despite all the challenges, I am finding once again that participating in this process is helpful and beneficial. I look forward to seeing what I can accomplish in the next week, and the remainder of the month.