Posts Tagged ‘AcWriMo’

Now it’s the eve of Academic Writing Month 2013, which runs through November, I’m going to state my goals up-front. This is with the hope that doing so will encourage me to complete them.

Goal 1 is to finish revising an academic journal paper I have a revise and resubmit offer on, and email the revised version to the editors by the end of November. The editors haven’t asked me to do any new research, or read further around the subject. Rather they want me to introduce my work more clearly, state the thesis up front, etc. That should be doable, if my brain gets into gear, in a relatively short time. For some of the material I add I will probably have to hack out some other content to keep within the 10,000 words (including footnotes) word limit. But, again, that should be manageable.

Goal 2 is to research, plan, write and submit a conference paper proposal for the 2014 SHARP conference in Antwerp. I am considering putting in a proposal for a paper based on Doctor Who fanzines. I’m still slightly undecided about doing this, given my neurological disease which is very disabling. I will make a final decision on what to do later in November. But I am gathering relevant academic books on the subject around me, and also brainstorming ideas for my own paper in my favourite mind mapping app on my iPad. The process will take a little time, but I think should be doable before the CFP deadline.

Those are my two goals. Alongside them I will be doing other writing, with an emphasis on having fun. And I will continue to judge the 2013 IF Comp entries. But these things will be done as and when I can, rather than towards fixed goals.

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I’m a member of SHARP, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing. Basically a bunch of book historians. They hold an annual conference each year, and I’ve been to two in the past: Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2005, and Dublin, Ireland, in 2012. Next year’s conference is in Antwerp in Belgium, which is terribly exciting from a print history viewpoint, being such an important early centre for printing, as well as a fun tourist destination.

I hope to be there. It depends on how I’m doing health-wise at the time. I’m long-term ill, with an MS-like illness, and my condition fluctuates quite a lot. But I’ve booked flights – cheap at the moment – and have sorted out a wheelchair-accessible hotel. I wouldn’t be using my wheelchair all the time there – Antwerp is a very cobbly old city – but would want it some of the time, and especially when at the conference talks.

A few months ago a fellow SHARP member on Twitter was toying with the idea of proposing a Doctor Who panel. In the end she decided she probably couldn’t make the trip over to Antwerp from America, but it raised ideas in my mind, that have been rumbling away ever since. And I think I might be going to propose a paper. The conference theme is religion, but also covers cult books and related publishing, and that’s a way in for Doctor Who, perhaps the most cult-ish TV programme ever, with rather an interesting relationship with publishing history.

My topic would be Doctor Who fanzines and their relationship to the programme, on air, then off air, then on air again. It also ties into the print versus digital debate. And fanzines are an interesting form of ephemeral publication that usually fall through the cracks. I have so many ideas for things I could talk about in a 20 minute talk. Back in July when I first had the idea I brainstormed ideas on my iPod touch, in an audio recording, so have that to refer to too.

On the downside this is well outside my specialist area 🙂 I’m a book historian, but my PhD, which looked at reading habits in Scotland, focused on the 18th and early 19th centuries. My postgraduate Masters dissertation was even earlier, looking at local court records from the 17th century. I’ve never looked formally at the 20th century or 21st century. But I think I could do this well, if only I can familiarise myself enough in time with the relevant secondary writings.

The SHARP 2014 Call for Papers closes on 30th November 2013. That gives me time to think over my options and do the necessary reading. Obviously if I do submit a paper proposal it would then be a question of whether the conference organisers accept it. But I’ll do my best, if I do decide to go ahead with a proposal. Another goal for Academic Writing Month!

If my SHARP paper is accepted I’d also turn up to my talk with a lot of fanzines to pass around the audience to let them see what I was talking about.

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Each year the Interactive Fiction competition happens around now, where people enter text adventure games, and then there’s a few weeks for judges to work through as many of them as possible.

This year there were 36 entries initially, though 1 has since been disqualified. I’m not confident I’ll get to judge all 35 games in the time available, but I am going to play and judge as many as possible.

Quite a lot of the entrants this year are traditional parser based games, including many written in Inform 7. But a growing number are web based, almost choose your own adventure type games, which can often be played quite quickly. This year there’s even 1 CYOA game presented in a PDF form, so similar to a book.

Playing and judging the games is also good for helping me as an interactive fiction writer. I can pick up ideas and techniques from other games, as well as form a clear idea of the sort of things I’d like personally to avoid.

But that’s something else I need to get on with in October and November, which again reduces how intensively I can throw myself at AcWriMo this year. But judging the competition is fun, and I enjoy it, so will happily do it.

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I woke this evening to a very welcome email, telling me that one of the journal papers I submitted in November had been accepted. Both readers really liked it, and recommended acceptance, subject to relatively minor revisions that I’m very happy to make. This was particularly satisfying because a previous version of this paper was rejected by another journal, admittedly after they had sort of accepted it, subject to them doing major editorial changes. But then their main editor died, and they couldn’t put that much work in it, so rejected it. I picked myself up, and reworked it as one of my #AcWriMo challenges in November, using the first journal’s readers’ comments as guides to what needed to be reworked. The result was a much better paper, which has now been accepted by a different journal. It will probably be published in 2014, so after another paper published in 2013 that will make it my 5th published paper as a single author academic historian. Fab! It’s also really good news because it’s another PhD-derived paper that had to be submitted by 1st April 2013 to wherever accepted it to avoid me having to pay costly open access fees under the new rules. Big phew!

Meanwhile my chapmen piece is moving on well, and I’ve also been making progress in transcribing the library borrowing registers I want to work on for another proto paper. I did the latter while watching some TV and films over the Christmas period: laptop on my lap, with digital images open in front of me, and a text editor window open to type in the transcript to. Got things done that way.

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Charlotte Mathieson posted a useful blog post today reflecting on what she’d achieved writing-wise in Academic Writing Month. Even more valuable, I think, are her thoughts there on learning from the experience and taking it forward. In particular she writes:

So the first thing I’m taking away from AcWriMo is planning my writing month-by-month as a way of focusing on more concrete, realisable targets. At the same time, the above goals make clear that being flexible is crucial; we can never entirely predict where a piece of writing or research will take us, and that’s natural. What was important about having the overall AcWriMo structure in place was keeping the end-goal in sight, and being realistic about how I could still have a solid outcome from the month whilst adapting to the changing needs of my research.

I totally agree with her thoughts here, on the value of planning writing month-by-month, and the need to be flexible. When I started November I declared my goals and a strategy for completing them. But in the end papers were finished in a different order from that originally anticipated, depending on how well they were going, what I wanted to do next. It was very much a case of reaching the end goal, not mattering quite in what order I got there.

Like Charlotte I plan to continue to state my goals month by month, and see if I can carry the momentum forward. This applies not just to writing, but to research in general. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring more projects to fruition more effectively this way.


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Haven’t made so much progress in the last week, because I’ve been quite ill, with a worsening extremely heavy cold on top of my neurological disease. But on the plus side I submitted Paper 1 by email last week, and received a prompt response from the editor. So that’s in hand. That makes it 3 journal papers submitted in November 2012, which is excellent progress. And I have a blog post that should be appearing in the near future on the website of an academic society I’m a member of.

My focus over the last few days, where I’ve been able to, has been to look ahead to future plans. For that I’ve been using my mind mapping app on my iPad, iThoughtsHD, to brainstorm future paper ideas and longer-term research plans. I’ve identified 3 more papers that I want to work on in the near future, though all are at relatively early stages, and need quite a lot of research, thinking and writing to be ready for submission. I’ve also identified areas that I want to work on in future research-wise.

My text adventure coding hasn’t moved on – just been too ill really – but it is in a good state, and I will be able to move it forward in future. It is far improved from where it was at the start of November, and for that I’m really pleased.

Because I’m unlikely to be able to do much more academic writing between now and Friday this is my last sum-up post for #AcWriMo this year. I’m incredibly pleased by how it’s gone. Thanks to its encouragement I’ve been able to complete and submit 3 papers that were lingering and not getting finished off otherwise. And I’ve also moved other writing and plans forward.

I definitely intend to sign up for #AcWriMo again next year. Between now and then I will also try to be more focused in terms of setting myself mini goals from time to time, declaring them here and on various social media sites, and trying to stick to them. That method of working has proved to be very effective for me, and I should use this technique more in future.

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Another week, and happy to report good progress. Paper 3, based on my MPhil dissertation, was submitted a few days ago to the eminent journal. This journal uses a fancy online submission system, which is quite a novel experience for me as a humanities researcher. Online submission is commonplace among science journals, but rare in humanities, where we’re more likely to email papers as attachments, or even in some cases print them out and post them. I found I had to write an abstract before submission, again quite unusual in humanities, but once that was done it was off, and simple. The submission website took my input Word (.doc) file, and converted that, seemingly trouble-free, to a PDF. I’ve since heard from the journal editor, and the paper will be going out to review soon. It could take four months or more to hear the outcome, but it’s in process.

Paper 1 is also making good progress. I finished editing it on the computer last night, and now have printed it out to work on it in a coffee shop for a final read through. I should be submitting it in the next week. Normally I like to work in a paperless office type of way, reading and annotating PDFs on my iPad. But in this case I might want to scribble like mad, so went for the printed option. In terms of length the paper is ideal, not too short, not too long, and I think it’s improved over an earlier version. Nearly there anyway.

In more fun things my text adventure coding has also moved on. I’ve built a coding framework for the main part of the game which seems to work well and will make it easy to implement in Inform 7. The next task is to write the dialogue and text – quite a big task, but I think manageable. I found mind mapping useful here too, filling in detail about individual characters and how they will respond to the player. Then I could take my mind map, transfer it from iPad to laptop, and do the coding and writing.

One thing I haven’t done yet is to mind map for future academic research plans, but I think that should be a priority now that I’m getting so many papers finished and submitted this month. So I will make doing that a priority in the next week.

And as a morale boost I received a big box containing 25 (!) offprints of my Scottish Historical Review paper. I’m drawing up a list of places to send them to, including the archives in Edinburgh who helped me access digital images of the required historical records, and the archive centre in Dumfries, since the paper looked at Dumfriesshire book owners.

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Another week on and I’m happy to say that Paper 3 – the one based on my Masters dissertation – is now nearing submission. Last time I reported here it hadn’t moved forward at all, but I’ve done a lot of work on it, including checking relevant historiography, and it’s now nearly there. I’m aiming at quite an ambitious journal, because I think it’s a piece that merits that, and I’m very proud of it. Right now I’m grappling with converting my paper to the chosen journal’s house style. Once that’s done I’ll reread, make final changes, then submit. In word count terms it’s bang on the right amount, near the lower end of what they permit. In history journals it’s often easier to get a shorter paper – relatively speaking, when we’re talking about 8000 words and upwards – published, and that’s the strategy I’m adopting here. It was quite a fight to squeeze a dissertation-length piece down into that word count, but I think it’s improved it, and focused the argument.

Paper 1 hasn’t moved forward, but I’ve put it on one side for now, partly while I focus on shifting Paper 3 out the door, partly to give me a bit of distance to be more ruthless in my editing / rehacking. It’s all too easy with a lengthy piece of academic writing to get quite attached to it. It can be very helpful to have some distance, and get something like a fresh pair of eyes looking at it.

On the downside working on papers so far advanced is making me want to do something a bit more creative. I really like the early stages of writing papers and doing research, when ideas are flying all over the place. So to recover some of that buzz I’m going to work on my mind maps for possible research/paper ideas in future, and also start to return to my text adventure game writing.

In a week’s time I hope to have Paper 3 submitted, or nearly so, have moved on the text adventure writing, and done some productive mind mapping. And then, after a decent break, it should be about time to look effectively again at Paper 1.

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I can only work on academic things in short bursts on alternative evenings. I have a severely disabling MS-like illness, and am too knocked out for the rest of the time, and during the day. Also I need to pace myself, hence going for managing a bit on alternative evenings rather than night after night. But despite this I’m making great progress.

The shorter Paper 2 has been finished already and submitted by email. I heard back from the journal editor today, and that’s looking good for now. The longer Paper 1 is also making good progress. I’ve been hacking away at it ruthlessly, and am now at the stage where I need to add some things, then convert it to journal house style, before final reading/editing, and then submitting. It’s currently hovering a couple of hundred words over the limit I’d be aiming for, but that’s a good position to be in at the moment. I expect to finish and submit that paper in about a week.

What hasn’t been so good is that I haven’t moved Paper 3 forward yet. This needs me to do some reading. But once Paper 1 is nearer completion I’ll be able to switch my attention to Paper 3. I don’t think Paper 3 needs a vast amount of work, but I do need to contextualise my research more, hence doing more reading on up-to-date research, and writing that up accordingly.

On the non academic front my text adventure coding hasn’t moved on yet, but I’ve just finished judging 27 out of the 28 entries in this year’s IF Competition. Playing through and judging those games has made me reflect on what I’d like to see in my game, and I should be able to feed that experience into writing and coding the game when I resume that later this month.

Best thing of all is I feel really invigorated by the #AcWriMo goals and schedule. I’m finishing things off and getting them out the door and submitted that have been hanging about for too long. I don’t think I could keep this pace up month after month, but from time to time it might be viable, and I’d like to continue working this way as much as I can.

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I’ve written before here about how useful I find the iPad to be as a productivity tool. I’ve been musing on this some more, in particular its use at different stages of writing and research.

Perhaps the most help the iPad gives me is when I’m brainstorming an idea in the initial stages. This can be for a piece of writing, or a planned piece of research, or anything really. I will always have a mind map (in iThoughtsHD) for my overall to-do list plans, and whenever I start a new project I make a new mind map for it. I’m not a natural mind mapper, but find it a great way, especially on the iPad in this app, of breaking a task down into smaller stages, recording ideas before I forget them, and moving research on a lot. Using this technique I’ve been able to bring more projects to fruition more quickly than in the past. I also think it’s helped me to be far more creative than I would have been without it.

The other way the iPad is brilliant for my way of working is as a concentrated writing tool. Because you can generally only focus on one task at a time in it, apart from possibly playing music in the background or through headphones, it’s very good for focused working. There are a number of distraction-free writing apps out there. I like WriteRoom, and will often take the core structure of a mind map from iThoughtsHD, import it into WriteRoom, and then start to write up my text. This is good for blog posts, short articles, and even academic papers. I also used it for some of my essays and my final project report in the honours level Open University art history course I took for fun last year. WriteRoom provides a word count facility, but little more. No fancy formatting options or anything like that. It’s essentially a getting-the-words-down app, and it’s really good at that.

I don’t find the iPad so good for final laying out and formatting. For example in #AcWriMo I’ve been working to get a few journal papers out the door and submitted. And a really important part of that is to make sure that each paper conforms to the journal’s own chosen house style. This editing could be done on an iPad, but I find it easier on my Mac laptop, even a 13″ size one, where I can have two windows open at once. On the left I have the Word window for the paper I’m working on, and on the right I have a window (whether in Word or a PDF, or a web page) containing the journal house style rules. And then I can refer to both as need be.

Also I don’t find the iPad as good for higher-level editing, at least in the word processor directly. For Paper 2 in my #AcWriMo goals I’ve been hacking away at the text like mad, making very big changes. And that’s easier done, for me anyway, on a laptop or a desktop. But the iPad is brilliant for annotating text. I have a stylus (cheap but effective, with a squidgy end that presses on the screen as I write with it), and using GoodReader I can open up a PDF that I’m reviewing and considering changes to, then scribble all over it on the screen. Then I can email the annotated PDF to my laptop for making the big changes. Talk about a paperless office! Anyway that method works for me. I also find I get through more PDFs reading them on my iPad than I would on the computer, and I really don’t like printing them all out.

Note all this applies to the large-screen iPad. I have an iPad 2. I’m not sure how well I’d work this way on an iPad mini. I think it’s a fantastic device, but the smaller screen size, both for typing on and reading PDFs, might be an issue for me. I have a separate Bluetooth keyboard that I use at times, and would work with an iPad mini too, but I rather like typing on screen as much as I can.

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