#NaNoWriMo (& other things) for generative (& progressive) PhD writing – an update

Just under a month ago I wrote a blog post about how I aspired to be a #NanoRebel and aim to write over 50k additional words to my PhD as part of the annual writing flurry of #NaNoWriMo.

With only 1.5 days left on November  – how did I do?

19142 new words associated with my PhD in the month of November- with the plan I have for work tomorrow, I reckon I could take it over 20k mark. I’m over the moon – but not for the original reasons I thought I might be.

Let’s get out the way first the fact 20k is not 50k – I have a klutz reason for that, mainly the small matter of a large cup of hot coffee made contact with my 1 year old MacBook pro on the 1st day of week 2. If it makes you feel anymore better, I also dropped it over myself (and I was wearing white, I never wear white)– and I was on my own in a coffee shop so embarrassingly tidied it up in complete silence, nobody made a comment about it, it just happened.

As I’m an expert in being a total klutz, I knew what to do – power off, battery oot, upside down on a towel – call my insurance company, get them to fix it. I’m too set in my way to follow a YouTube video about how to de-stick a mac keyboard. I didn’t even need to worry about data because I am triple back up merchant and a slave to the cloud.

At least I did something right – but I have lost many a hard-drive in the past. RIP nostalgic photos from 1999-2004, may you exist only in my mind.

Anyway, it has fortunately been repaired & no real damage, however, won’t be returned into my loving embrace until the 1st of December. Thanks to boyfriend, colleagues, work for lending me an array of devices so I could keep writing. And with an awful lot of thumb-text writing emails on my phone, I still managed to add 14k of those words to the total, on top of keeping work moving.

Nothing puts it more into a more sensible context than when you find yourself citing from papers that were written before your parents were born and constructed using a typewriter. Not being able to write because I don’t have my beautiful MBP, set up with endnote, keyboard shortcuts and a second screen is and was not an excuse. I know a little bit of me totally would have because I know what me is like.

So what have I learned:

Firstly, submitting 40k in May and the #NaNoWriMo goal setting was good because it forced me to open my document every day – and by opening my document every day, I’ve reconnected to my PhD in a deeper way. My PhD (Mark 2 – post April 2013) has always felt so wrapped up in emotion and misdirection – but I was determined to show myself (and the world – and the imaginary haters than mainly exist in my own head telling me that I can’t do a PhD) that I was capable of sustaining and writing a document of that length.

I wrote down on my PhD notepad last week:

“The PhD has moved from trying to survive and proving that I could do a PhD to focusing on writing chapters and getting them completed.”

Hell to the yeah. I realised I have spent 3 years trying to prove that I could do a PhD – even it meant just showing up and writing. I don’t think all of the stuff in the 40k is usable – but it helps kind of explain and show to people outside of the PhD land that it exists, it helps show to me that it exists. It is a tangible document. It is evidence that I am serious about this.

But I don’t need to prove this anymore – if there has been anything the last 30 days has shown me is that I’m not dealing with this need to prove myself as a worthy candidate to remain on a PhD programme.

Because come on now, if you’ve been on the books for a while – and you’ve not completed, you are a red mark on a spreadsheet for somebody or something– and you need to be realistic in terms of ensuring your survival. I have not spent the best part of my twenties talking about this PhD to be asked to leave on the basis of an administrative process. Every single person in the world will be invited to my post-submission and post-viva party – I’ve already booked the first part. It is going to happen.

That’s because I know that I am worthy enough and I am capable enough to do a PhD – I just happened to get lost a bit in the middle. And in that lost bit in the middle, I made some good choices and I made some poor choices but faced with what you have, you have to accept that that is the way it is. And returning to the same document, day in, day out – it reminds you of those choices that in any other situate you’d be able to let go off. Being able to get through that, at some points it is just you, hanging on with your finger nails and then manage to pull it back- with the stories, the support and help (of what feels like) 1001 different colleagues and friends – is why I feel being open and sharing your process and your journey is so important.

Others would disagree – and that’s fine too. The convenience of academia is that somebody else has probably thought and said it first anyway so don’t let your view of the world be dictated by only a few versions of events.

TL;DR version – I don’t need to generate lots of text to prove I can put the graft in, I’m now working on chapters to completion. Hooray.

Second, as of the 1st of November – I got a letter to say that third and final director of studies is now in place. There are probably words for PhD students like me (paperwork). Although the more people I meet at retreats and online who talk about their own PhD experience, changes to supervision teams and a-typical experiences seem to be the norm when it comes to getting through this process. If you are thinking about doing a PhD, you need to get this part so right – I cannot emphasis this enough. I’ve just started supervising MA students of my own and I want to try and offer the best and appropriate that support that I can.

Both supervisors have now reviewed and feedback all the work that I have done – and now with fully formed and subject specific supervision team in place, I can start to see the finishing line in sight. Re: #NaNoWriMo, based on advice from both my supervisors, I changed my goal about 10 days into the month to move from generative text to locking down my methodology and research design chapter for good. That will become the backbone for the rest.

And this is the interesting thing right…

See, I thought it was a novice ethnography, worried it was poorly managed because I didn’t do things that other people do in ethnographies & I didn’t prepare for it in the way others would & I only had one chance at it (and so many other reasons why I talked myself out of it) – but actually, I’m now seeing that it is quite clearly a case study with embedded units of analysis – using internet-mediated dataset and a partial ethnography.

I know roughly what I see my contribution to knowledge to be – that is exciting because I hate that question when folk make small talk about ask about your PhD. I can tell you now.

I’m remembering that I am first and foremost a scholar of new media and internet studies – not journalism, not events, not education. I have a certificate to prove it. So I’m reengaging in methodologists that I enjoyed reading when I was at the start of the journey.

It’s so exciting because I can start to listen to myself and trust myself with the support from others rather than comparing myself to others and thinking I’m doing it “wrong”.

But this is me reconnecting with academia properly, right? It’s quite easy when you work in a university to avoid it when you sit between many contracts, jobs, many roles and many interests – you can be so spread out that you don’t get the time to focus on the stuff that brought you in in the first place.

So to conclude, the generative aspect of giving myself the goal of #NaNoWriMo to focus on my writing was beneficial beyond the capacity of counting words. Perhaps being without my laptop for a bit was a little bit of a blessing – because it has got me thinking about my convenient set up I have at home. I’ve had to be a bit more prepared, I’ve had to be present in places, I’ve printed and organised articles to put into Endnote but thought about it a bit more because I need to be more targeted in developing my arguments. I’ve been reminded of why I’ve found myself in this position in the first place. I’m actually thinking about how I’m going to fit new work around the PhD, rather than the PhD around the work. I’m saying no to being “on call”.

I don’t think this is all to do with #NaNoWriMo – of course – but it certainly helped me communicate all these things better to my world outside of academia & manage selfcare. When a project has hung around unfinished for so long, you just get used to it being there – it’s going to feel amazing when I can actually say it is finished and that I can properly move on. You are just going to have to bear with me for the next 6-9 months as I write all this stuff down – if it is blogging, twitter or epic late night Facebook posts. The reflective stuff is as important as the academic stuff.