Last autumn I wrote a blog post in which I described my plan to finish a draft of my book by the end of 2013. My scheme involved waking up at 4 a.m. several days a week to write for a few hours while the house was dark and quiet. Well friends, I have failed to do that, but in many respects I consider the experiment a success. Furthermore, I learned some things that may be of use to the rest of you. To wit:
- I did not complete a draft of the entire six-chapter book, but I produced a pretty polished draft of chapter 4 and I have something called chapter 5, which is probably better than I would have done without even trying this early morning experiment. So, I would say that I have about 5/6 of the book drafted, and would therefore give myself a B for effort and a B-/C+ for achievement.
- The main reason I didn’t finish all six chapters is that I pooped out after about five weeks of very steady writing and engagement. I caught a cold in early October, went to a conference, and then midterm papers and exams came in. In early November I had a trip out of town, and then it was Thanksgiving and I caught another cold, and that’s where October and November went. And then December, with final exams and papers and grading, not to mention the rest of the holidays and family visiting? You can imagine.
- Biggest lesson learned? The 4 to 6 a.m. writing experiment is a great thing to do for two weeks or a month at a time, but expecting to keep up that schedule amidst the demands of my day job was unrealistic. I should have realized this when I started getting up at 4 a.m. and ended up spending two hours just answering emails and reading the news. Even with going to bed at 9 p.m., I got pretty run down. However, I’ve resumed the early morning work this week and will probably keep it up through next week too.
- Other lessons: getting a draft banged out sure does expose the holes in your research! (And how!) This is a good thing. Also, continual engagement really works. After a few rough mornings, I came to enjoy my writing time and even looked forward at 6 or 6:30 a.m. at the end of a writing session to 4 a.m. the following day, when I could open my file and write again.
- Although I respect and appreciate the concept of what archivists call MPLP (More Product, Less Process), I am not a “$hitty first draft” kind of writer. Part of the reason for this is that the intricate social history that I must do in this book means that I’m frequently both doing the research and making discoveries and connections while I’m writing. Part of it is that I just really like writing, and so find it difficult to move along by just dashing down ideas and facts. This may also explain why I wrote only a scant two chapters instead of the three I intended to write.