Context Junky

Archives/GLAM, PhD life, history, art, etc.

What do I want to learn in 2017?

This is the final of three related blog posts to start the year, all reflecting on where I am professionally and what lies ahead. The first post, How did I end up here?, talks about how I became an archivist; the second, What have I learned?, tries to sum up some of the things I’ve worked out getting to this point; and this post looks to the year ahead.

2017 will be less varied than 2016. I’ll have fewer trips, conferences and presentations, fewer interviews and museum visits, and less paid work, all to make space for my primary goal: 80-100,000 words of quality writing. I want to have a PhD in my hands by Christmas, one that’s ready (or nearly ready) to submit in early 2018.

Everything I’m hoping to get from the year emerges from this, including the primary thing I want to learn: how to become a better writer.

I tend to do a lot of reading, thinking and mental planning before I start to actually put words down on the page. Then, once a deadline starts to bite, I write relatively good first drafts relatively quickly. It’s a useful skill, and my writing has historically been good enough to get by. A few edits, some proofing, and these pieces make it through the review process. From there they usually need a few (minor) revisions, and into print they go.

Though none of these pieces of writing are bad, they are not as good as they could be; and, perhaps more importantly, they are not as good as I would like them to be. To make a more significant contribution to the fields in which I work I need to improve the structure of my writing, express my ideas more clearly, be more rigorous in my use of language and my critiques of existing scholarship, and engage more effectively with the complexity of the concepts I want to explore.

A key component of this is to give much more time and thought to revising, distilling, and restructuring my own work. Editing my PhD in the second half of this year will be a great learning experience. Aside from that, I want to finish my first drafts of articles and chapters sooner to give myself more revision time. That means less procrastination – something I am always striving for, with varying degrees of success.

There are also some general skills I want to keep trying to improve.

First, I want to get better at planning effectively and setting realistic expectations for myself. I can’t do everything I want to do, and shouldn’t try. I can’t travel as much as I would like, keep presenting at conferences, write a load of publications, throw myself into multiple opportunities, and still come out with the PhD I want to write. In 2017 I need to ensure I prioritise and am realistic about how long each commitment is going to take so I know when to say no.

Second, I want to reduce double handling. I spend too much time looking at emails I don’t have the time or headspace to action, or reorganising lists of future work I have no intention of starting any time soon. This creates noise. Instead, each time I am about to look at my emails or a to-do list I’m going to stop and ask myself if I have time to action the things I’m going to see there. If not, those emails and lists can wait.

And third, I need to learn to balance my professional life with other interests. Since starting my PhD I read less for pleasure, have stopped playing in bands and DJing, and have barely touched my camera. Though other interests take up time the enjoyment I get from them makes me less stressed and more productive professionally. I’m happy working the long, sometimes unconventional hours that – rightly or wrongly – are often associated with academia, research and writing; but I need to get better at creating space for other things.

There are also some personal aims. I need to spend a little more time writing posts for Context Junky and a little less time on Twitter and YouTube. I need to take better care of myself, eat a little healthier, drink a little less, and get a little more exercise. I need to  worry less, communicate more effectively with the people close to me, and continue learning to be comfortable with myself. Who doesn’t?

Finally, when I have those days where I ignore all the good intentions above and do something – or nothing – just for the hell of it, I need to remind myself there’s no need to feel guilty. We all need a break sometimes.

Here’s to a happy, productive, and successful 2017!


  1. Cheers! Good one Mike. Another pleasurable read…..I think you are too hard on yourself.

  2. I really love this post Mike, it’s very honest and touching – thanks for sharing

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