Academic Writers Studio logo with lotus and ink pen

February Writing Challenge

In 2019, we launched our first February Writing Challenge, partly as a kind of joke response to 30-day challenges. On the one hand, if the 30 days in 30-day challenges is supposed to be equivalent to 1 month, why not do a 30-day challenge that’s 1 month, but make it the month of February, so you’re actually only doing 28 days?

On the other hand, February is a notoriously grueling month, one that psychologically at least feels longer than 28 days, and maybe even longer than a regular month.

In 2020, we did it again … and let’s just say that over the 29 days that were February 2020, the world changed. A lot.

And the changes kept coming.

And we’re still living here, in what sometimes feels like a parallel universe but is just our current reality, and that weird messing with time that we had attributed to February seems to have taken over all of how we experience time. But on a scale that was unimaginable last February 1.

The pandemic has changed virtually every academic’s relationship to their research. And we have done a lot of thinking and talking about how that works, what it means, and what to do—and you probably have, too.

For today, we’re not going to dig into those topics. We’ll be dealing with them plenty in the next month, and over the next months. We’re going to be extra stubborn and say that the usual rules apply; that is, what we need to do is double down on what we know works. The wisdom we can gain from doing that stuff in times like this is the same that gets us through anything.

On the other hand, we don’t know what that will look like. If last February taught us anything, it’s that where you end up may be far, far from where you started. And we’ve seen over and over again over the past year that what works for people’s productivity and overall wellbeing is listening to, testing, and readjusting the balance between ways of being stubborn and ways of being flexible.

But let’s start off with some small doses of stubbornness. Here’s what we think you should do.

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.

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. Or join our Facebook group, Reclaim your research and writing: pandemic recovery edition.
  • 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—a notebook, an app, or whatever.
    • 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 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.

Especially these days, we 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 winter weather and family illnesses.)

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

However, we 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): Cultivate deliberate attention to your scholarship and how you want it to fit into your life, and then explore ways to put those hopes into practice..

Usually we suggest that people give their research some love every day. But one thing we’ve learned from the past year is that living in pandemia means that you may not be able to make daily commitments in the ways you might be able to in more ordinary times. So we encourage you to spend some of your best energy assessing how you want to define that balance, and also how you can build in ways to reevaluate and adjust as needed.
You don’t have to have it all figured out now. We’ll be talking about it all month long.

(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.)