Posts filed under #AcWriMo

BONUS: What are you carrying forward from this reflective writing exercise?

This post is from the 30-day reflective writing series I made for Academic Writing Month (November 2018). For background on the series and links to all the videos, visit this page. To turn on subtitles: On a computer, hover at the bottom of the video window to make the row of icons appear; click on the “settings” icon (which looks like a cog), and select “Subtitles.” On a phone, the “subtitles” icon is in the bottom right corner of the screen.


  • Think back to our Day 0 reflection, when we considered what energy we were bringing into this exercise and what intentions and hopes we had for this experience. And think over the reflections you wrote in response to the questions, however many or few they may be. What new insights or moments of clarity stand out to you? What new conceptual tools did you gain? What are you carrying forward with you from this exercise?

  • This time, I’m sharing my response right here in the blog post. I still invite you to share your responses in the comments section! And if you feel moved to share feedback on how this exercise has gone for you and how I can improve it in the future, you can send me a message through this contact form or hit reply on any of my emails.

  • Finally, remember to subscribe to my email list if you’d like for me to let you know about the next free writing resources I create. I’m just getting started! :)


  • Nine questions for positively reframing a writing project

  • Key insights for my project

  • Questions I’m carrying forward from this exercise

  • How about you?

Nine questions for positively reframing a writing project

One of my biggest realizations in reflecting on this 30-day exercise was how many of these questions are great tools for reframing negative or discouraging experiences or aspects of our projects into a larger narrative of progress. Researchers are bound to meet countless challenges and discouragements over the course of a project, so the skill of positive reframing is truly a scholar’s superpower.

These nine questions jumped out at me as especially useful for positive reframing of a writing project:

  • For remembering why you care: “What is the object of affection at the center of your project?” [Day 3: Object of Affection]

  • For overcoming imposter syndrome and claiming your place within the conversation you’re entering: “How is your perspective on your subject completely unique?” [Day 4: Perspective]

  • For remembering you’re not alone in this process or in the universe: “How has a moment of human connection moved your project forward?[Day 9: Human Connection]

  • For letting go of something that’s bogging your project down: “What is asking to be released from your project?” [Day 20: Release]

  • For the often-agonizing task of facing criticism: “What insight can you find in a difficult piece of feedback?” [Day 22: Feedback]

  • For letting go of the people your project is not for: “Who is NOT your audience?” [Day 23: Non-Audience]

  • For recognizing how much knowledge you have already built: “What do you know for sure about your subject that you didn’t know before?” [Day 25: Certainty]

  • For accepting and doing your best to integrate what you can’t control: “What is wild, untamable, chaotic in your project?” [Day 27: Wildness]

  • For simplifying an overwhelming and endlessly complexifying project: “What is the MVP (minimum viable product) version of your manuscript?” [Day 28: MVP]

That last question yielded one of my favorite reflections of the whole exercise. I like it because it captures the inherent thinking-on-your-feetness of the research and writing process. Here’s an excerpt:

“What is the MVP (minimum viable product) version of your manuscript?” At first, I was thinking this is the least Margy question on earth because I am the person who rails against the expression "Done is better than perfect." I always say, "You know what's better than done? Done perfectly." Why bother doing something you're not going to see through to its full potential? But then I realized that the beauty of the MVP concept is that you can release something before it is done, and trust that it is not gone from you. Even as it is being released for others to use and interact with, you can keep nurturing and developing it.

It's like putting your child in preschool and not knowing every single thing that's happening there all day, but getting back key pieces of information and using them to inform how you continue to parent your child in your times of direct interaction and caregiving. … Similarly, I can release an MVP version of my work and still remain its parent and nurturer (or CEO); I can keep developing it even when its tender form is spending time in others' hands.

So what exactly have I learned or discovered about my project through this very public exercise in thinking out loud? I’ll share a few of my main insights below, followed by the questions I’ve identified as useful focal points for my work moving forward.

Key insights for my project

I came into this 30-day exercise open and curious, hoping to get a sense of whether these reflective writing questions would actually work for researchers, including myself. Would it feel productive, clarifying, inspiring, energizing to put so much care and effort into a non-teleological form of writing?

The positive feedback from people who have done the exercise, and my own sense after reviewing my responses, is that yes, there is something here. These questions do work to open up new insights. They may not do much to help us implement or act on those insights, but that is a question for me to consider in future resources I create — and of course, in the book I’m working on. As I read back over my responses today, I noted a few key points.

1. My book is a map of the stars rather than a set of GPS directions.

Reflecting on the question “What is your project about?,” I wrote that my book is about how the knowledge-building process can be navigated. “Scholars can live the process of researching and writing the same way a self-actualizing person lives life in general: moving in and through unmapped realms with a focused but flexible sense of purpose, navigating with intention and skill even though you can't know exactly where you're going or how to get there. I want my book to feel less like a set of directions or map of the terrain to be traveled and more like a map of the stars that, paired with effective navigation tools, enables you to find your bearings and chart your course no matter where you are. That's the only way to be able to go places that don't have an address you can type into your GPS: to be able to read the landscape itself, pinpoint where you are in the universe at any given moment, and trust in the instinct you have trained for this purpose. My book encourages and (hopefully) equips scholars to approach their research and writing in this way.” [Day 5: About]

2. My book is being written specifically by me.

Several of the questions helped me realize just how rooted my project is in my specific life, work, and relationships, even though I want the book to be broadly applicable. My reflections helped me see how my creative process is indistinguishable from my process of living, with even painful experiences like romantic break-ups imprinting on the creative project that has been emerging. Yet, for all this subjectivity, the reflection exercise as a whole also left me with a deeper sense of how this project is less about me “inventing” something than it is about me assembling, elucidating, and naming what is already there in the universe, completely independent of me.

One of my characteristics that I particularly reflected on throughout this exercise is my outsider-insider status in relation to my subject. For the question “What about your perspective on your subject is totally unique?” I wrote that I was beginning to see “how the gaps in my knowledge/experience of academic research are a huge benefit because they leave room for other knowledges and experiences that are really valuable for the problem I'm working on.” [Day 4: Positionality] My response to the question “What’s your inheritance?” helped me claim my place within a larger knowledge-building tradition despite my lack of a traditional academic role. I accept my scholarly inheritance with gratitude and am reinvesting it to make something new, and that acceptance and reinvestment are what make me worthy of the inheritance, not whether I’m employed by a university. [Day 8: Inheritance]

In thinking about the me-specificness of the creative process, I also reflected on particular life events that have shaped my project. For example, in response to the question, “How has a moment of human connection moved your project forward?”, I wrote about an early client who described my support as being like a vast and weightless mobile, providing scaffolding people’s thinking and writing without imposing itself on that which it supports. This metaphor has guided me for the past four years. [Day 9: Human Connection] And the question “What in your project is wild, untamable, chaotic, or random?” [Day 27: Wildness] let me to reflect on the complete entanglement of my self, my unfolding life, and my emerging book. Here’s an excerpt:

The life I happen to be living, the people I happen to interact with, and the events that happen to occur to and around me all find their way into my work in one way or another. … There is wildness and chance in my work just like there is in life and in the universe. I happen to be here, in this environment, in this moment, looking from this perspective, experiencing this weather, and this reality of mine finds its way into the work I do no matter how objective and universal I may try to be. Even if I wrote this entire book without one mention of myself, using the academically distanced third person and sidestepping any reference to my own direct experiences, this book would still be a kind of memoir. Maybe every book that's truly worth reading is a memoir, it's just that some disguise it more than others.

3. I know more about how to construct the story-argument of this book than I had realized.

The structurally oriented reflection questions all brought me greater clarity on aspects of my book’s structural design. My response to the question, “How are you scaffolding your manuscript?” helped me clarify how to structure the body chapters parallel to each other [Day 15: Scaffolding], while the question “What is your roadmap telling you about your argument?” helped me express the whole-book story-argument more concisely. [Day. 26: Roadmap] The reflection on “How are your introduction and conclusion bookending your manuscript?” [Day 29: Bookends] helped me realize (I think) what the very first paragraph of the book needs to do:

I tend to prefer leading with a vision rather than a problem, so I don't want to open with an exposition of all the challenges writers face or what they're lacking. Rather than start by dragging them down with a problem, I'd rather the first thing I do be to get them excited about possibilities. Help them feel seen, understood, and supported, and newly alive to the idea that they may have more power and capability than they are fully aware of at the moment. Maybe the way to open the book is to paint the picture of a scholar navigating the knowledge-building process in the way that I know is possible, that I want my book to help make more possible for more people. If readers can see themselves in this description, or imagine themselves into it, then this can get them excited about reading the book and what it might do for them.

Plenty of food for thought here. But! That’s not all. I also came up with a list of questions specific to my project that I need to reflect on moving forward.

Questions I’m carrying forward from this exercise

By reviewing all thirty of my responses, I narrowed down five useful questions to mull over in the coming weeks and months:

  • How can I present the Story-Argument model as a meaningful, albeit simplified, representation of reality? How can I use this model as the basis for guidance that is not prescriptive?

  • How should I characterize and defend the key role I see intuition playing in the knowledge-building process? [Day 11: Explore]

  • What intangible qualities will my readers have in common? I know the book will not appeal to all academics/researchers, and that it will appeal to some outside academia, but I need more clarity on how to balance academic and non-academic readerships. [Day 13: Micro-genre]

  • How can I show how the ten modes of thinking and writing are intermingled with each other in practice? If the answer is case studies, what kinds of cases should I select and on what basis? [Day 21: Misfit]

  • How will it fit within the category of academic self-help book? [Day 13: Micro-genre; Day 30: Destination]

How about you?

I’d love to hear your post-exercise reflections! What conceptual tools are you taking with you? What insights did you find? What questions are you left with? How did this exercise go for you? Feel free to share your responses in the comments section below this post!

And if you feel inclined to share feedback with me in a less public forum, you can send me a message through this contact form or hit reply on any of my emails. I’d especially appreciate hearing suggestions for what kind of content you’d like to see in the future and what can be improved!

Actual footage of the reflective writing questions being developed.

Actual footage of the reflective writing questions being developed.

Posted on November 30, 2018 and filed under #AcWriMo, reflection questions.