Saturday, November 30, 2013

#AcWriMo Brought Me Back For More

This was my second year participating in the annual #AcWriMo - Academic Writing Month. You can read more about the concept here. There's a lively online community of people participating, commenting, and sharing strategies, and as you can tell by the hashtag, much of this is done on Twitter. There's also a massive GoogleDoc spreadsheet where everyone declares their goals for the month and reports on their daily achievements. I think this year we had around 700 people declare their intent to participate. This type of constant, but slightly anonymous, accountability offered by the spreadsheet seems to work really well for me.

Last year's #AcWriMo was incredibly productive for me, as it got me on track with consistent writing and built some habits that allowed me to write a complete, but very rough draft of my dissertation in about three months. The most critical thing about #AcWriMo for me last year was finding out first-hand the importance of daily writing. It's not just a matter of slowly chipping away at a big project through steady work, but daily writing also builds momentum, and over time you are able to write more and more.

Last year I also discovered the beautiful software that is Scrivener, which I now swear by for writing anything longer than the shortest conference paper, and Skim, a FREE PDF annotation software that lets you mark up even un-OCRed documents. Added to Papers, for bibliography and digital library management, and these are the three programs I run constantly. People clued me into a host of other apps for Mac, most of which are free or run online and which boost productivity significantly. When I really want to crank out work I run FocusBooster (a free pomodoro app) and give myself some low background noise from Coffitivity. It's a blissful, productive bubble. I should also give a shout-out to the PhDometer, which has the benefit of counting total words written, not just the words you keep, which is what Scrivener or Word do. The PhDometer is a more reflection of the creation and editorial process involved in (particularly) academic writing.

Last year was so productive, and helped me develop some really great writing habits, so it was really a no-brainer to jump in again for this year's run. I even got tapped to help with the organization this time around. I'll be back with a post in the next few days reflecting on how this year's month went for me.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Blogging Archaeology Carnival Month 1: Why I Haven't Blogged

This post is a response to Doug's call for a blogging carnival in the lead-up to the 2014 meeting of the SAAs in Austin, TX this April. I'm adding my voice to many other archaeologists who blog to answer the questions Doug has set out for us this month. Briefly, he asks:
  • Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?
  • Why are you still blogging?
  • Why have you stopped blogging? 
The most pertinent of these questions for me are the first and the third. As to why I started: I began this blog shortly before embarking on my year of dissertation research in Ecuador. I wanted a way to stay in touch with people from home, and my parents wanted a way of keeping tabs on their only child and granddaughter. Because internet access was limited, blogging was actually a good way of communicating with people - instead of writing or responding to numerous emails, I could craft a blog post, throw it up when I could log on, and then every one was on the same page. It was also a good exercise in working through some of the things I went through that were tangential to the archaeology but still a critical part of the experience, like living in a foreign country for an extended period of time and parenting a toddler. The blog was useful after I left the field as well. I, as well as some friends, have used my entries in classes to give students an idea of the experience of conducting fieldwork, and I used some of my entries as the bases for various dissertation chapters.

Since I returned from the field in May of 2010 I've posted five times, the last of which was over two years ago. I guess that means I have officially stopped blogging. Don't get me wrong, though, I'd love to blog more. So, why don't I? The answers to this question are varied. Perhaps the easiest answer is that I started this blog to document my experiences in the field, and that was a finite period of time that is now over. Without that adventure the impulse to blog has diminished.

Since my heyday of blogging my life has also undergone a number of changes. The husband I write about now is a different one than the one I wrote about when I was in Ecuador. Baby Girl is now officially Little Miss, and she needs different things from me. I also started a full-time job in May of 2012, and it was a bit of a shock to the system to go from a grad student schedule to a 9-5 one. Meanwhile, I'm trying to finish writing my dissertation in my free time. None of those things prevent me from blogging, but they got in the way in the past, and got me out of the habit.

The job I have now requires me to be the social media liaison for issues we deal with, and sometimes I just don't have anything left over at the end of a day to reflect on in a personal space. I also worry about people conflating my personal views on an issue with the official views of my organization, and because I am passionate about the work we do, I have definite, personal, opinions on a lot of those same topics.

Ultimately, though, I think I've struggled with finding my voice - feeling that I have enough authority about any given topic to write a whole post about it. I think it's related to the impostor syndrome, and a by-product of my graduate training and all the road bumps I've run into trying to wrap up my dissertation. But you know what? That's bullshit. I pontificate on Twitter or Facebook,  and I jump into cyber-debates and engage with colleagues face-to-face.

So, here's my promise to myself: I'm going to party with the rest of you on this #blogarch carnival, and give this thing another whirl. Besides, I went through all that trouble to compose this kick-ass background photo, and it would be a shame to waste it.