A Journey of 100,000 Words

...begins with a single page. As I was looking through my files this morning, wondering what I had done with the word processing template for my last book, I found this schedule that I kept the autumn that I started work on it. Nostalgia and a reminder of how books are written: one day, one hour at a time. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

As I recall, I finished the draft of the first chapter of that book a week later. Working more or less to this schedule, it took me another two and a half years (minus a term or two teaching) to get the book finished and to my publisher. So I guess I'm in for the long haul now with this next book, although I (and my prospective editors) very much hope it is not quite as long as the first one was. If you're curious, you can check that one out here.

N.B. The times on the chart only reflect hours I actually spent sitting at my desk, writing.* I know I spent a good deal of time reading as well, but I didn't record that as such.** And, if you're wondering, I started the chart as a way of getting over the terror of actually working on the book: "It's 9:30am now; I'll work until lunchtime and then take a break." "Look, I worked five hours today; it's time to go home."

*Which is not the same as "typing." I usually managed about 500 words a day of actual new composition.
**That is, "writing" for me includes a good deal of reading, but it's a different sort of process when I'm actually composing from when I'm just reading new material.


  1. My work life functions right now by virtue of the "planning wall"--one whole side of my office given over to flip chart sized sticky sheets, one per project, covered in turn with smaller stickies representing each step needed to take that project to completion. (Or the next step, anyway, if I have not figured out where it will end.)

    Towards the end of particularly intense projects, such as now, the whole wall gets a second overlay--one sheet per day remaining until the completion date, where the little stickies represent each thing that has to be accomplished before going home that day. Worst thing that can happen--the progressive migration (and eventually pile up) of little stickies from one page to the next if things foul up.

    We each have our coping mechanisms...

  2. At the time I was working on the first book, I had a desktop-sized calendar on the wall, with every week numbered so that I would know how many I had left until the end of my leave. Thank goodness I'm no longer on a tenure clock--it really did turn my hair white! Now I'm just working under the knowledge that if I don't get as much written NOW (i.e. while I'm on leave) as I can, it will be even longer before I can finish this present book and that will make my Artist very unhappy.

  3. This whole series of posts is a fascinating case study in, not only the creative process in general, but how preferences affect the way in which we create. I was ready to challenge your being an 'N' when I initially perused your work schedule from 1998; that looks like 'S-J' type behavior at first glance. Until you get to your Dec 8 (and final) entry. Then, one can say, yup, FB is a classic intuitive thinker.

  4. Ahhhh, to me this post is an inspiration and a motivation. I will have to draw up a table of my own!

  5. It's a very simple, but very effective tool: give yourself a daily minimum that you can bear working on your writing and then stop when you've fulfilled it. Four or five hours may not sound like very much compared to a "real" work day, but it's actually a long time to spend writing. I find I work best in three hour chunks, but sometimes all I can bear to do is an hour before I have to get up. The thing to do is not kid yourself about when you're really writing (i.e. thinking the thoughts that you need to get the words on the page).

  6. @ Jeff: The problem, I think, with being an N is that you see connections everywhere. It becomes very difficult to find a place to start. The chart was a tool to help me get over the panic of finding the end of the ball of yarn when all I could see was the ball.

  7. Right. As one with a very clear preference for Intuition, I can see how the chart helps. The pesky N is what would preclude me (amongst many other things, insight being but one more) that would preclude me writing a systematic theology. How does one ever figure out where to begin?

  8. Well, the trick I'm using at the moment is to start with the most boring thing I can think of: simply defining the Little Office of the Virgin Mary (it's harder than you might think!). N's work well with definitions.


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