When I write, I have to burrow. I burrow in my condo, at my desk, or in my room, or on my couch; usually, literally, burrowing under blankets. I can’t be distracted by TV noise or other people’s conversations or music (I seriously don’t understand how some people can have playlists for their books. I would never be able to focus on my own words).
In college, the biggest project I ever undertook was a huge research paper on Joan of Arc for my combined history capstone and honors program thesis. I had well over one hundred sources; this included entire seasons of Joan of Arcadia, some great old movies starring Frank Sinatra and Ingrid Bergman (not in the same film, mind you), and dozens and dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction. And I only had one semester to do it. Not only did I only have one semester, but that was on top of a full course load and working at the library fifteen hours a week. It was just too much and something had to give. It ended up being my deadline.
It was the most humbling and embarrassing experience to have to go to my adviser, about three weeks before the semester ended, and explained that no matter how I crunched the numbers, I simply wouldn’t have enough time to finish researching and writing the paper before the semester’s end. I hadn’t slacked off. I had done TONS of research, I just hadn’t gotten around to actually constructing my argument on paper yet. And it was destined to be a twenty-plus-page paper with some hefty footnotes, so it was no quick all-nighter. This was because I had designed a schedule that only allowed me about five hours of research/writing time for this particular project a week. And trust me, I had already long ago cut out sleeping, socializing, and TV time. There was just no more room in the schedule. Thankfully, my adviser gave me an extension–the second week of school the following semester. Which meant that I spent the month-long winter break pumping out pages and rewriting them, formatting my references and organizing my thoughts, all squeezed in the margins of Christmas shopping and wrapping and baking and family time.
As you all know I have this book I’m writing about Byberry State Hospital. It’s already under contract with Arcadia Publishing and the final manuscript is due November 11. And this deadline is non-negotiable. I’ve done a TON of research so far. I feel like I really know my topic–which I wasn’t feeling so confident about a few months ago–and I’m starting to organize all the photographs in InDesign (it’s like digital scrapbooking and I’m loving it!) and write down the captions. Technically, there’s going to be between 180-240 photographs, with each caption being a maximum of 70 words each. Then there’s an introduction and acknowledgement page and slightly longer 350-word chapter openings. When you break it down like that, 70 words is nothing. It’s laughable. I can get those done no problem. But in total, it’s probably going to be a 18,000-word book, which is a lot more formidable. And I haven’t written it down yet. And the deadline’s in less than two months. If I write 1,000 words a day, I can get it done in 18 days. But last night, it took me an hour to write two captions, a total of 140 words (I have to cross-reference a lot of notes and sources, to make sure each caption is historically accurate). So it’s looking like I’m going to have to dedicate a lot more time every.single.day to get this done.
So, somethings gotta give. And this time, it’s not going to be my deadline. Instead, unfortunately, I’m going to have to give up this blog until the deadline is done. And all other social media. And a slew of other personal responsibilities I took on that are just too impractical and time consuming at the moment. I have so many blog posts jumping around in my head, ready to write, but it just wouldn’t be responsible to take an hour away from time that should really be spent writing this first draft. So before it’s too late, I’m shaving down my schedule and adding as much writing time as possible.
I’m looking forward to providing the final update on this book: Done. Wish me luck!
(Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Nationaal Archief)