AcWriMo: Throwing my hat into the ring.

I got wind of AcWriMo (the academic-writing answer to NaNoWriMo) just as I was starting to think “Okay, now that the Potential Book Project has a good chance of turning into my Tenure Book Project, I should start making time to work on it.” It’s high time I got back into the daily writing habit, and it’s also high time I started putting some words down for the manuscript that this project seems to be turning into.

For those of you just tuning in: I wrote my dissertation on 16th- and 17th-century English poetry and medieval and early modern theories of memory. Over the past few years I’ve gotten fascinated by another place where poetry and memory intersect (sort of). While I was living in Connecticut, I started periodically visiting Brown University’s John Hay Library, whose Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays includes a wonderful range of 19th-century American “commonplace books,” or homemade collections of quotations, many of which include large numbers of poems. Readers would transcribe extracts they wanted to reread or remember into notebooks or sheets of blank paper; the results tell any number of stories about how and why people were reading poetry.

I’ve now got notes on over thirty commonplace books in the John Hay Library. There are many more I still want to look at there, and several more collections both in New York and further afield. And I’ve been slowly building a database of poets, poems, and quotations that I’ve found in the commonplace books I’ve looked at so far, because I want to be able to say “Out of a sample of X readers, Y% quoted poet Z, and poet Z nearly always appears in conjunction with poets A, B, and C” and have actual data to back up that claim.

I can see this project going in a bunch of different directions, which may or may not become chapters: a couple of case studies of particular poems and/or particular families and their commonplacing practices; some explorations of the data I’ve compiled (what can I discover about people’s tastes and reading practices? About poets’ reputations? About which poems, and parts of poems, get quoted, and which ones don’t?); some discussion of the place of these poetry collections in the world of related print genres — anthologies, “beauties of literature,” annuals, gift books, quotation dictionaries, and so on — that also grouped bits of verse together. I also want to write about the place of commonplacing within practices of memory and commemoration (including the memorization of poems, but also the use of commonplace books — and their related genres, like scrapbooks and friendship albums — as a way of commemorating the people who compiled them).

So here’s where I set a writing goal for November. I’m not sure if a target word count would help as much as a commitment to a certain amount of writing time every day. I’m not trying to produce a finished chapter or a book proposal, just to move the project past the “thinking about it” phase and into the “writing” phase. (To generate part of a Shitty First Draft, to use Anne Lamott‘s unforgettable phrase.) And I’m fitting it around a full-time work schedule. So I’m just going to say: half an hour’s writing time per day, all through the month. Thanksgiving may complicate matters, but we’ll see.

Things I’m still debating: when to schedule writing time (super-early in the morning, before I leave my apartment? at the end of the day? after I finish work but before I head home?); whether 750words or Written? Kitten! would provide more motivation (achievement badges vs. cute kitten pictures: maybe not such a tough call…); and whether I can squeeze a conference paper proposal for SHARP 2013 out of this process.

Okay. I’m in. This’ll be fun, right?

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