I’ve watched with envy for the last few years whilst friends took part in NaNoWriMo, a project where people try and write 50,000 words of a novel during November. I had been thinking about trying to do something similar with my thesis for some time, when lo-and-behold, the PhD-to-Published blog decided to trial something they refer to as AcBoWriMo, or Academic Book Writing Month.

Their idea is to set yourself a word goal that seems reasonably impossible, and to participate in a month of writing to try to achieve that. One of the major selling-points of the Nanowrimo idea is the community support, and knowing that other people are involved in the same terrible, awkward, difficult, intimidating business of writing. As I have a lot of writing to do at the moment, as well as a lot of analytical work, I’d certainly appreciate the support of doing so in a community.

One could argue that being in a university department with one of the biggest bodies of post-graduate students would provide a suitable community, but that hasn’t proved true. It’s a commonly held belief that doing a PhD can be a very lonely experience, and even here in UCL that remains true. In archaeology many students travel for field trips, and many more are foreign nationals and often travel home or work in their home countries for portions of time. Some live outside London, as I do, and more prefer to work from home rather than an office. As a result of this broad demographic, the chances of anyone actually being in the office when I am is usually pretty slim – though this has picked up as my cohort has hit the third year running.

People often express doubt that an online ‘community’ really can really offer much in the way of true support, but my experience with #phdchat argues that it can. #Phdchat is a weekly discussion held at 7:30pm -8:30pm using Twitter and the #phdchat hashtag. Every week people talk about a different topic, asking questions, offering advice, and just chatting. It’s developed into a regular, reliable community and people continue discussions informally throughout the week, making new friends. Even students such as myself, who are lucky enough to be in large departments full of other PhD students undertaking similar problems, benefit from sharing their concerns and chatting with others.

Whether AcBoWriMo can be as successful as #phdchat is entirely down to getting a big-enough buy-in from students and having a dedicated moderator. With PhD-to-Published introducing the idea very late in October it’s unlikely many people will take part, but they’ve introduced it as a ‘trial’ for a bigger version next year, so it could work very well. And for those of us taking part this year it’ll hopefully get us in the habit of writing daily, which considering I’m beginning third year has got to be a good thing!

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