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Writing Challenge 2020

This February, turn a corner on writing your academic book or article manuscript by joining our annual writing challenge.

Last year, Academic Writers Studio launched our first February Writing Challenge to test the theory that February actually has something like 45 days worth of work hiding in a month that’s pretending to be short. With that kind of crunch, it’s easy for your academic writing to land on the back burner.

Seriously, though, February does seem like a great month to take on a research productivity challenge—for both good and bad reasons. Most obviously, when you’re trying to do something every day for a month, having three fewer days is a big deal. So sticking a challenge into a short month is clearly a great idea. Also, 28 days has that nice symmetry of being four weeks, which is what we often think a month is, as opposed to 31 days, which is (not-even-exactly) four and a half weeks.

And did we mention that it’s shorter?

… wait, what?

Now I’m being told that it’s a leap year and February has twenty-NINE days!?! That’s not 45 days; that’s like … [gets out calculator, does math] … 47 days, if you round up! Shudder.

It’s a cruel irony that someone decided the best time to have a “bonus day” would be the end of February. Couldn’t it have been in June? Or September? They only have 30 days, so they have some extra space for a stray day every four years—and I bet there are a lot more people who want June or September to last longer than there are fans of February 29th.

One of those people is me. I grew up mostly in Malaysia and Indonesia and I really do not like winter at all. I remember moving back as a teenager and expecting January 1 to be pretty much the midpoint of winter. So around January 1, I was going, “okay, this isn’t so bad, I can totally do this.” Around February 25, I was going “so tell me more about this ‘seasonal affective disorder’ I keep hearing about.”

It took me a long time to realize that February is grueling for a lot of people, not just me. (Part of being legit depressed is thinking that everyone else is just “surface-level complaining” and it’s just you who is truly miserable, all alone.) It’s just as wintry as January, but more tiresome, and the days are getting longer but that just feels like a tease. And it has Valentine’s Day, which is cute for parents of 5-year-old children, but stressful or annoying for almost everyone else.

Put another way, February doesn’t have much to recommend itself.

However, I am also ornery and love a challenge, so as soon as I think something like that, another thought, along the lines of “well then let’s give it something to recommend it!” comes hot on its heels.

And what we have come up with is the February writing challenge.

One thing that February does have going for it—and an advantage that actually gets more dramatic the more you dislike February—is that it encourages people to stay inside, not be too ambitious about stuff they want to get done outside of the house, be cozy and kind of introspective, and cook warming dishes like soups and chilis that are easy to make extras of and reheat.

All of these add up to … some optimal conditions for writing.

February is also a great month for “going deep.” We hear a lot more shamey stuff around this time of year. We’ll be dealing with that more later on, so for now I just want to observe that one of the more high-altitude themes of this particular challenge is going on an anti-shame productivity journey.

For now, let’s do a quick round-up of what you should do if you’re interested in participating.

Our approach might seem somewhat flip-flopped, but it works!

Part 1: line up your resources

Decide you’re going to do it. Part of the concept here is that we encourage you to be flexible about what “it” is going to look like, exactly, as the month unfolds—so you really can decide that you’re going to do it in advance of knowing what you’re signing up for. (More on this below, and in a blog post coming soon.)

Then build support and accountability by (a) telling at least one person that you’re doing it and (b) starting to create a supporting framework. Here are some places to start with (b):

If you’re a Studio Scholar, stay tuned to the Slack Kitchen channel. You’ll get all of our FWC-related communications—which will include info, instructions, tips, food for thought, pep talks, some goofy things, and community. You don’t even really have to do anything to opt in, although if we know you’re specifically doing it, we can specifically support your effort. (You might also want to look at the suggestions below for non-Studio Scholars; we’ve talked about these topics in the Studio but it might be useful to re-read them all in one place, in this particular context.) We can also match you up with a writing buddy specifically for this challenge.

If you’re NOT a Studio Scholar and want to join in, try these substitute frameworks:

  • For company/community: pair up with a buddy or form a writing group who’ll do it with you, or draft someone to be responsible for nagging you about it supporting you regularly throughout the month.
    • (Try messaging us via Facebook or Twitter, or email us. If we get a critical mass of interest on any of these channels, we’ll try to hook you up with a supporting structure.)
  • For tracking and recording your thoughts: a way to list/check off that you did a thing each day + a space to record your thoughts.
    • Crack open a new notebook, or a new doc or folder or whatever you like. OR …
    • We’ll be posting daily on Twitter and Facebook. Reply, react, or hashtag #FebWri.
    • However you handle it, pick a format that makes you feel good, not like you’re doing another chore.
  • For other supporting framework: find an object or mini-ritual you can mentally attach to this process that’s pleasurable for you, that makes you feel happy or comforted or decadent. Candles are super simple and effective. Or use a fancy journal and pen for your tracking. Or anything you like.

Part 2: choose your initial approach.

Approach A (the classic): Pick A Thing you intend to do and sustain it for the month (which, you’ll recall, is “only” 28 29 days). It can be whatever you think will be a good challenge for you. Some of the classics:

  • writing for X minutes a day or writing X words or pages;
  • or doing it not every day, but X times per week;
  • or making sure you hit a total of X days over the course of the month.

I encourage you to set a relatively low bar, try to exceed it, and be thrilled if you do, rather than setting a higher bar and being disappointed. (Don’t forget that although February is technically brief, it can pack a lot of things like snow days and winter illnesses.)

If you can do this, you are amazing! Truly!

Honestly, I can’t remember any good practice that I’m 100% sure I’ve accomplished for 28 29 consecutive days. (Other than post things for last year’s February Writing Challenge.)

However, I think that for many people, it’s not ultimately a great idea to really push yourself to do something for a month that you have chosen in advance. That’s how we get things like burnout and yo-yo dieting.

So we have this thing we call …

Approach B (the alternative): Practice sustained commitment to yourself and your scholarship—yourself as scholar—every day, for a month.

In addition to being long AF, February distinguishes itself by having Valentine’s Day. Tell yourself you’re going to give your research some love every day. Doing that also means treating yourself with both encouragement (or pressure!) and compassion. It might mean embracing Plan B.

What does it mean to practice sustained commitment, or to give your research some love every day? How does that play out in terms of your thoughts and actions?

That’s the fundamental question. That’s what we’re really here to find out.
(And don’t worry; we’ll talk more about this.)

(Oh! Also, there’s Approach C: Start out doing approach A, run out of steam or have something unexpected come up and derail you, and then—instead of throwing in the towel—switch to approach B. We’ll be here for you. 🙂 )