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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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This is a bit of a spoilsport post, but I wanted to set down, in writing, some of the reasons that I am extremely wary of the #AcBoWriMo experiment that is currently underway on Twitter.

#AcBoWriMo stands for Academic Book Writing Month. It has been put together by the excellent Charlotte Frost of PhD2Published and the idea is, as with #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that people will bash out words to get as close as possible to writing a book; in this case, an academic book. I voiced some concern at the time this was being organized and I don't want to be hostile. Instead, I just want to open up the debate. It could be that it works for people. Great; I'm hardly an academic tortoise myself! However, here's the parts that alarm me.

Academic writing isn't supposed to be fast

It seems to me that, to write academic pieces quickly, three things are required: 1.) the research data (however conceived within one's discipline); 2.) a sound knowledge of the original thought that one wishes to express; 3.) a solid grasp of the literature review. Do the participants have these aspects to hand? I would suggest that it is the accumulate of these three aspects, with a massive focus upon the second, that take the time in academic writing.

This boils down, for me, to a single point: the process of writing is part of the process of thinking. Good thinking takes time and, as a consequence, so should good writing. If you can think it quickly, it's probably been thought before and is less likely to be startlingly brilliant.

Publish or Perish

I enjoy frequently publishing; it's among the reasons I blog. That said, there is an inordinate degree of pressure on academics to publish early, often and fast. Does #AcBoWriMo contribute towards this pressure? I've used this example before, and I'll use it again. Ludwig Wittgenstein published a single book during his academic career. But what a book. The current climate wouldn't permit Wittgenstein to exist, yet his works are among the most well-regarded philosophical writings of the 20th century. Perhaps we should query whether this is the culture we want. Does the public-facing nature of #AcBoWriMo mean that the general public could get the wrong end of the stick and demand that academics publish faster and faster? ("She did it in 2 weeks. How hard can it be?")

The purpose of #AcBoWriMo

I've put this section in because I think it's important to ask participants: how are you regarding the project? Is it an effort to get writing? How does it differ from an arbitrary 750 words? Are you going to go back and edit (would it have been better to produce something of higher quality the first time around?)

Anyway, as I mentioned at the start: I'm not saying don't do the project and I'm not trying to do it down. I do, though, have questions and would love to hear some reasoning from those who are enjoying and/or finding it a useful way of working.

Featured image by jjpacres under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.