Charles Duhigg is a splendid writer of stories that impart “how to” advice. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive has just come out. For two reasons, these days I’m inclined to gloss over such books: there is an aspect of the journalistic style that can encourage a suspicion of slickness; and I’ve come to a middle-aged person’s aversion to general “do this and that” advice, preferring to trust my own evolving process (hey, call it a big year).
But this once I’ll look for clues on how to get to the end of Chapter 20 by the end of next year. in reality, I need to synthesise smarter, work faster, and somehow write “better.” His book is apt. So I’ll jot down the takeaways from each chapter as pithily and provocatively as possible, and ask at the end what might help.
A week ago, I rose extra early. I stretched. I hadn’t jogged for two and a half days. When I laced up my green joggers, I felt an emotion mostly absent from pre-jogging preparations. Excitement! I even imagined my body calling, “go, go, go, I need this.”
I took a different route, almost into the centre of town. Magic.
Before we left Melbourne for forty days of European hiking, one of my peroneus tendons on the left foot, which attaches to the outside of the foot and heads laterally underneath for stability purposes, was exhibiting what they call “tendinopathy,” the new word for the old “tendonitis.” On most jogs it twinged and threatened to bring me to a walk. Icing and taking care with foot strike have staved off Big Year disaster.
But now walking might, I believe, cure that darned left foot. My chunky hiking boots enclose the entire foot and lessen the lateral movement. The hiking stride doesn’t put nearly as much pressure on the foot as the jogging footfall. The multi-hour exercise might loosen up the blood flow through the tendon. So much for amateur theory. Let’s see what happens today.
Better. Much better. 10 kms as needed for the Big Year. Tortoise pace with all the ups and downs but mid 20s and a breeze, what more could I ask for?
I’m still filled with joy at actually completing (synonyms: finishing, being done with, mastering, gazumping, hammering, nailing, slamming, winding up) a chapter. I can now “finish” all of them. Editing, rewriting, etc. can be done.
But there’s a caveat. My chapter 2, which miraculously compresses pivotal reactor history of excessive complexity into one narrative, is TOO LONG. Seventy-five or a hundred pages, actually, depending on the density of a page. Decapitation will trim that but not to the forty pages that an 800-page book of twenty chapters demands. And I can’t see myself eschewing the drama and “truth” of the story I’m assembling.
What to do? Think, certainly.
One year. 1953 when it all changed. Let’s build power plants not bombs, they said. (But keep building loads of bombs as well.)
The blurriness of this photo isn’t because I took it badly. A fine misty rain was falling over my iPhone. In reality the Suffolk field I photographed on my first jog here was quite picturesque, but this incoherent image matches the quality of the run, which was horrid, tough and jet-lagged. (In fact I never managed to include the photo!) I didn’t dare consult Strava because the iPhone screen can’t be fingered when it’s wet, so in the end, after putting in a big effort, I only ran 9 kms, not 10. All I could do is remind myself that I couldn’t expect much more after 36 hours of travel.
Now I can’t wait for my next jog here in this most quintessential British countryside.
At last! I’ve now got a working draft. It’ll be rewritten over time but the underlying material won’t change. I’m done and dusted with American reactor history from WWII to 1953.
One year soon enough will be a Long Hikes Big Year, lots of biggies. Now for some practice . . .
For many writers, the only place they can work is their haven – the sun-drenched studio, the silent bolthole in the back of the house, the kitchen table early in the morning, the musty library, the study with its bookshelves. Me, I’m not bad at writing on tram or train, and cafes are my real home. Over the next couple of months, I’ll take tablet, pens, notebook, index cards, and 124 pages of reference notes, and will attempt to plot and draft Chapter 5, covering the crucial year of 1953.