Public accountability, #acwrimo, and The Book

Over the course of 2011, among the long-delayed things I finally managed to do was to put together a book proposal for the publication of my Ph.D. research. While I am reasonably pleased with the thesis I produced, it is no exception to the general rule that it would not make a very good book if I tried to publish it as it stands.  As it happens there is a reasonably well-known series by a well-respected publisher, edited by someone I know, where my research fits in rather nicely. Even more nicely, they accepted my proposal.

Now here is where I have to humblebrag a little: I wrote my Ph.D. thesis kind of quickly, and much more quickly than I would recommend to any current Ph.D. students. Part of this was luck–once I hit upon my main theme, a lot of it just started falling into place–but part of it was the sheer terror of an externally-imposed deadline. I had rather optimistically applied for a British Academy post-doctoral fellowship in October 2008, figuring that either I’d be rejected and it would make no difference at all, or that I’d be shortlisted and have a deadline of 1 April 2009 to have my thesis finished and defended. At the time I applied I had a reasonable outline, one more or less completed chapter and the seeds for two more, and software that was about 1/3 finished.  By the beginning of January I was only a little farther along, and I realized that the BA was going to make its shortlisting decisions very soon and, unless I made a serious and concerted effort to produce some thesis draft, I may as well withdraw my name.  Amazingly enough this little self-motivational talk worked wonders and I spent the middle two weeks of January writing like crazy and dosing myself with ibuprofen for the increasingly severe tendinitis in my hands. (See? Not recommended.) Then, wonder of wonders, I was shortlisted and I got to dump the entire thing in my supervisor’s lap and say “Read this, now!” The next month was a panic-and-endorphin-fuelled rush to get the thing ready for submission by 20 February, so that I could have my viva by the end of March. This involved some fairly amusing-in-retrospect scenes. I had to enlist my husband to draw a manuscript stemma for me in OmniGraffle because my hands were too wrecked to operate a trackpad. I imposed a series of strict deadlines on my own supervisor for reading and commenting on my draft, and met him on the morning of Deadline Day to incorporate the last set of his corrections, which involved directly hacking a horribly complicated (and programmatically generated) LaTeX file that contained the edited text I had produced. (Yes, *very* poor programming practice that, and I am still suffering the consequences of not having taken the time to do it properly.)

In the end the British Academy rejected me anyway, but what did I care? I had a Ph.D.

With that experience in mind, I set myself an ambitious and optimistic target of ‘spring 2012’ for having a draft of the book. For the record the conversion requires light-to-moderate revision of five existing chapters, complete re-drafting of the introductory chapter, and addition of a chapter that involves a small chunk of further research.  It was in this context, last October, that I saw the usual buzz surrounding the ramp-up to NaNoWriMo and thought to myself “you know, it would be kind of cool to have an academic version of that.”

It turns out I’m not the only one who thought this thought–there actually was an “Ac[ademic ]Bo[ok ]WriMo” last year. In the end the project that was paying my salary demanded too much of my attention to even think about working on the book, and the idea went by the wayside. The target of spring 2012 for production of the complete draft was also a little too optimistic, even by my standards, and that deadline whizzed right on by.

Here it is November again, though, and AcWriMo is still a thing (though they have dropped the explicit ‘book’ part of it), and my book still needs to be finished, and this year I don’t have any excuses. So I signed myself up, and I am using this post to provide that extra little bit of public accountability for my good intentions.  I am excusing myself from weekend work on account of family obligations, but for the weekdays (except *possibly* for the days of ESTS) I am requiring of myself a decent chunk of written work, with one week each dedicated to the two chapters that need major revision or drafting de novo.

I won’t be submitting the thing to the publisher on 30 November, but I am promising myself (and now the world) that by the first of December, all that will remain is bibliographic cleanup and cosmetic issues. I am really looking forward to my Christmas present of a finished manuscript, and I am counting on public accountability to help make sure I get it.  Follow me on Twitter or (if you don’t already) and harass me if I don’t update!