It’s November, which means many of you will be cracking out your manuscripts to take part in Academic Writing Month (AcWriMo). AcWriMo is a self-driven challenge to complete a writing project over the course of one month. Many academics use AcWriMo to push themselves to finish papers and thesis chapters, encouraging each other on Twitter using the hashtag #AcWriMo. All you need to take part is a computer or pen and paper (and probably some form of caffeinated beverage)!

This month, we’ll be publishing weekly posts with helpful information for those of you taking part in AcWriMo. First things first:

Setting a writing schedule

AcWriMo is a very personal project. Some people aim to complete thesis chapters or manuscripts for publication, while others have the more general goal of simply writing a little each day. The amount you need to get done will of course influence your writing schedule.

Setting targets

It’s easy to think “I want to write 10,000 words this month, which is just 333 words a day!”, but take a look at your calendar. First, you would probably benefit from taking a couple of days off each week to give your brain some space to develop new ideas. You might also notice that you’re very busy with lab work, teaching or meetings on certain days, so won’t have as much time to dedicate to writing. This might mean you’d benefit from setting weekly rather than daily word targets, which could then be divided between the periods you have available for writing.

Block out some time

Whether you’re writing all day or just between other commitments, I have personally found it helpful to schedule writing time in 60–90-minute blocks with breaks between. This provides enough time to really focus on a topic without distraction, but ensures you take a break before your mind starts to wander.

If you have a whole day set aside for writing, check out the programme for the Anchorage Education Writing Retreats here: I found this really useful in the final stages of writing my PhD thesis. Be sure to remove distractions by turning off email and mobile phone notifications during writing periods.

Be strict about breaks

“I can’t stop now. I’m on a roll!”

Sound familiar? As strange as it sounds, taking a break is just as important as the work itself. Get yourself away from the screen and preferably take a short walk. Don’t eat your lunch at your desk. AcWriMo is mentally challenging and your brain will be more efficient after a rest. If you’re worried you’ll lose your train of thought, just write yourself a short note about what you intend to say next.

Get stuck in

With a realistic schedule in hand, you’re ready to get started with AcWriMo. If you have to, get yourself away from the office to avoid interruptions from colleagues. We wish you the best of luck with your project!