Saturday, October 22, 2005

Textual Polyamory

I've been working on three book projects at the same time. One of them, Conflict in Southern Writing, is almost ready to go to the printer. My part in what remains is simply to do one last read-through.

Now that I've had a weekend of freedom from that book, I realize that trying to do three books at once on a 4/4 schedule was madness. It can't be done ... well, OK, I guess it can be done since I just did it, but it shouldn't be done.

It isn't like I was spending every waking hour working on these three books; rather, all three of them were flitting about the back of my mind in a blur. I find that in order to write (I mean write good stuff, not off-the-cuff stuff like blog entries) I need more than two hours. The first hour I need to piddle about with mindless tasks while I think about the writing, and the second hour I need to ease out of the writing to move on to the next task at hand. Thus, if I have two hours and ten minutes uninterrupted, I'll have about 10 minutes of really great writing time. When I can't get more than two hours blocked off without interruption, I can't write much meaningful. On the other hand, if I can get, say, eight straight hours, that's six solid hours of good writing, even taking a break every 45 minutes.

To give you one real-life example of this, after doing all the research it was taking me forever to finish my dissertation. Finally, I gathered all my materials, some canned food, a sleeping bag, and a laptop, and rented a cabin out in the woods. Four days later I walked out having written the last two chapters -- the two chapters that needed (by far) the least revision. My dissertation director wrote me and said that I had finally found my voice.

Given that I need large blocks of time to concentrate, the more projects I have at once, the less I can get done on them. Now that I finished my part on one of the books, I moved to editing an article for one of the other books. I had previously looked at the article before, of course, but I was surprised at how much more clearly I understood it. Having that extra book to edit didn't take up that much actual writing time, but it took up that much extra thinking time.

So, here's my resolution -- I resolve to never again work on more than two book-length projects at a time. [Did you like reading that split infinitive in the resolution as much as I liked writing it?] Total monogamous commitment to one book at a time might be more than I can realistically restrict myself to, but one book spouse with a book mistress on the side seems reasonable, even for a textual philanderer like me.

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