Lit Hub, the interesting website for readers, has decided to do for recent books what Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic does for films, i.e. aggregate and average public reviews. It surveys a wide range of publications, and whenever a new book gains enough critical mass for three or more reviews, Book Marks pronounces an A/B/C average rating and sums up critical responses. The Book Marks website is vibrant and attractive, and there is some benefit to being able to quickly ascertain a book’s reception. But I’m not partial to Rotten T and doubt if I’ll use this site. Just as a parcel of Amazon reviews can be superficially worth examining, but always ends up as confusing because you just don’t know where the reviewers are coming from, I believe in following individuals, critics with consistent outlooks and standards.
A few years down the track, I intend to do a Reading Big Year, reading some three or four books a week for all fifty-two weeks of the year. Should I review them all? The idea is most attractive, if scary.
There are so many ways to organize a day, especially if you’re willing to rise before everyone else. Distractions abound. I decided to try a different way of structuring time. As soon as I’m up in the morning, I will write uninterrupted until noon. I call this the AM Brick Wall, a barrier cutting everything else off. No newspaper, no email, no Facebook, no SMS. Let’s see how this idea fares.
My left foot: recurring twinges of near lameness in that outer edge under the ankle . . . occasional arch soreness . . . two months old . . . random recurrence during jog . . . random recurrence sitting at a desk . . . time to visit a physio, someone cognisant with regular exercise, someone who won’t prescribe useless rest.
Ten years. First half year. Two big years halfway through. Progress?
Jogging Big Year: big thumbs up.
Writing Big Year: big thumbs down
Am I disappointed that my core goal for 2016, to complete a draft manuscript, has turned to ashes? Am I disappointed that what I said would take one year will take two?
Of course I’m stricken. Or rather, I was stricken. But aiming high and failing can bring rewards. I aimed for something I can’t deliver. But now I see what I can aspire to deliver. If shipping the book takes two years, not one, but I’m at last confident, deep down, of getting there, then I can sigh with relief, pick up pen, and get to it.
There’s nothing like butcher’s paper for making sense of bafflement. Dates, chapters, commitments, family . . . mix them and see. The second half of 2016 has only 11 clear weeks for writing. The original goal – finish Reactor – is impossible. 2017 can focus more on Big Year writing: I’ll stay put for 43 weeks. Then I can aim to spend 3-4 weeks on drafting each of Chapters 5 to 20, plus finish Chapter 2 to 4 in the next 5 weeks.
All of which translates to two new Writing Big Years:
- 2016 Writing Big Year: draft Chapters 1 to 8, covering 1942 to 1969. Let me call this Volume I: The Years of Promise.
- 2017 Writing Big Year: draft Chapters 9 to 20 and be done. Let me call this two volumes, one for each half of the year: Volume II: The Years of Doom (1970 to 1985) and Volume III: The Schism Years (1986 to now).
Why break the book up into three volumes? To sharpen focus: finish something! Also, I might even move to publish the book in parts.
(Please note: all the above names, of the book and of the “volumes” are just working titles, I’m sure the eventual titles will be completely different.)
As with any management or motivational tool, how we plan and monitor a Big Year is all-important. One of the major issues confronting me at the start of the writing big year was that I’d gathered, and was continuing to assemble, too much research information. Every attempt to write something engaging had gone nowhere. I needed a new mindset, so I boldly said: no more research, use your brain to cut through the thickets of information, and just write the damned book. Enter the 2016 Big Year: by December 31, through reckless courage and bold thinking, write a draft of all 20 chapters.
Of course I knew that would be tough, if only because prior arrangements, some clean-up work in January, and overseas visitors, etc., meant that 2016 at-desk time will only amount to just over six months. I worked out that all I had to draft each chapter was a week and a half. So be it, I yelled, and got cracking.
At the Big Year halfway mark, Chapter 1 is drafted and Chapters 2-4 are “nearly there.” I’ve spent some three weeks on Chapters 3 and 4, and eight weeks (yes, eight, not one and a half) on Chapter 2. A disaster.
But much good came from this half-year push. I now have a “plotting process” that winnows the piles of research and provides a blueprint for drafting. The analyse-then-plot-then-draft process grows clearer and quicker each time. For the first time in years, I can see the end of it all.
But how to rescue the Big Year? Or should it be abandoned? I grab some butcher’s paper and “think tank.”
Mid-year stocktake time for the Jogging Big Year. As of now I’m on 911 kms. Springtime hiking takes quite a few weeks out of the remainder of the year – I believe I can rely on 18 weeks, i.e. 720 more ravishing kilometers.
So, feet and legs and general health and willpower permitting, I am on track for the annual 1,600-km target.
Sculptor and artist Anne Truitt kept a diary in the late 1960s. In Daybook: The Journal of an Artist, she writes about her stringent work habit: ” . . . during the years from 1948 to 1961 I had formed the habit of working in my studio almost every single day. Rain or shine, eager or dragging my feet, I just plain forced myself to work. . . . Something graceful and to be cherished, something delicate and sweet fell by the board with this obsession, which, in essence, still remains a mystery to me. Why am I so obsessed? I do not know.”
In the corporate world, fierce action and short deadlines are the go. Or at least that’s how I recall that world. I don’t find writing so straightforward. When I wrote murder mysteries, I managed to pump out a manuscript each year, but this nonfiction book has turned out to be an epic of slowness. Even now, under internal (and external, hi friends and family) pressure, on some days I need to slow right down, to take small, deliberate steps, in order to speed up delivery of draft material. Today is such a day.