Using NaNoWriMo for generative PhD writing


This is the academic year that I complete my PhD. I am very fortunate to attend writing retreats almost monthly now. I’m at one in Dumfries just now writing this in my final session – I was at Gartmore last week (6.8k words of introduction redraft banked) & I have two booked in November.

I’m now watching friends and colleagues who have been working alongside me over the last 5 years reach the submission stage and on with their lives, despite being part time and having to work full time, alongside life commitments. It is inspiring.

As of yesterday I have worked out that I have a thesis document 7 chapters of my thesis structured over 87 pages (33k words, roughly – paired back from the 40k I submitted in May) where there are gaps needing fleshed out and locked down. I’d like to hit 200+ pages by 31st Dec.

My goal has always been to hit the magically 80k draft by Christmas, even if it was just a numerical target – as there was something significant about seeing a document that is the length of a thesis – 80000 words. If I could have 80000 words to play with after a break for Xmas holidays – I would be a very happy person indeed.

I have a thesis structure in place – so it is all habit forming in my schedule, writing and generating text that I can adapt and change in focused editing settings now. “Snack” and “binge” writing as Rowena would call it. I’d had the expectation that I would use the writing retreats that I’ve booked to produce a chapter each time – but realistically I have a lot of notes to write up in the literature review, methodology and the beginning of my findings and if I could get those bits done whilst I’m at home or in a spare hour at work, it would make the writing retreats productive and keep me in that PhD headspace for a sustained period of time.

So, a bit like one of those exercise regimes where you focus on habits for 30 days – I’m going to use the fact that it is the 1st of November tomorrow to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – a long standing online community of writers trying to produce a first draft of a 50k novel in 30 days of November. I’m going to take the NaNo Rebel and borrow the community, infrastructure and model to generate thesis text rather than fiction.

This is not about perfection, this is not about sharing it with the world as it is stands, it is about getting into the habit of writing an average of 1.4k words a day that fit within my PhD (that’s based on 5 days of retreat = 15k and 35000 divided by the remaining 25 days.

Having been a long-time user of to produce daily pages – I know that on a good day I can knock out 3 pages of generative text between 10-30 mins. Therefore my plan is to select a section of my thesis each day and knock up the word count by particular amount (between 1k-2k) for each day in November. I feel that I am now at the stage I can do this because I am in a better position in terms of understanding what my thesis is trying to achieve and how I went about achieving it.

Accountability is everything here – so here is a link to my NaNoWriMo profile page – if you are also writing this November, feel free to join in. I’ll blog about this at the end of the process to let you know how I got on. I’m sure I’ll be feeling every kind of emoji afterwards. Wish me luck!