Author Big Year: Day 73

Author Big Year

I’m in a shambles. Working desperately hard does not, repeat, does not mean I’m getting in the hours, each and every day, to which I’m committed. Nor are the hours always the work I need to do. I can’t decide whether to draft or produce the next mystery (launching in April) or improve marketing or try new projects. Aaaaaaaaaaaah!

I’ve worked just over 6 hours a day over the 73 days. That’s close to the year end target, but I should be up at 8 hours/day to allow for upcoming holidays, breaks, whatevers. And real writing, that is, writing on the nuclear history book, is only about 3 hours/day, well short of what this Big Year wants.

I’ll try and collect my thoughts over the next day or so, and then reorient.


See a bird on its flyway

Wings Big Year

Study is such fun. Yesterday’s Wings Big Year reading unearthed a technical term I’d kind of known about but never appreciated. For migratory birds – creatures who breed in one place and then regularly fly somewhere else, often far away, for the other half of the year – a “flyway” is its annual path on a map of the globe.

This is most relevant for me. If I do indeed launch a special project next year on cranes, which mostly migrate, here are the words of advice of Harry Saddler (author of the terrific “The Eastern Curlew: The Extraordinary Life of a Migratory Bird”): “The idea of writing a book about migration without travelling along the migration route is inconceivable…”

That simple phrase might not strike you as particularly profound but it hit me like a hammer.

On the toenail of an ostrich…

Wings Big Year

My Wings Big Year… an hour each day gnawing away at the question: what is a bird? One aspect of that multifaceted question is: how big are they? Noah Strycker, in “Birding Without Borders,” offers a typical stylish answer: “The smallest, the Bee Hummingbird of Cuba, could perch comfortably on the toenail of the largest, the Ostrich.” Ever since I read that, I’ve pictured that petite hummingbird resting for a moment on the gnarled toenail of an ostrich. Such an image is a much stronger mnemonic than 5 centimeters compared to 2.75 meters.

How many ways can we ask: What is a bird?

Wings Big Year

Musing on this question, I’d like to figure out what, to me, a bird MEANS. Here’s what Melbourne birder and writer Harry Saddler says, in his wonderful book “The Easter Curlew: The Extraordinary Life of a Migratory Bird”:

The world is vast and no birds encompass this vastness more than shorebirds. Yet by navigating the world so consummately, by isolating and utilising those landscapes that find parallels across the world, by shaping the ecosystems of that world as they go, perhaps shorebirds also, unwittingly, make and have made the world – or parts of it, at least.

Wings Big Year: Boring? No!

Wings Big Year

The technical specs of birds (and animals and everything) sounds boring and is boring until it isn’t and you want to figure out “what a bird is,” that is, how it sits as a species among the 10,000-plus species.

I’ve been reading various books but the best and best-written one so far is Colin Tudge’s “The Secret Life of Birds.” I can’t pretend to have mastered any of the technicals but here is how a particular bird of interest, the Brolga (one of the fifteen crane species), is classified:

Kingdom: Animali
Phylum: Chordata (don’t know what this is and don’t care to learn)
Class: Aves (now we’ve got down to our feathered friends, the birds)
Order (there are 31, I think:) Gruiformes
Family: Gruidae (the family of fifteen crane species)
Genus: Antigone (this puzzles me because most people seem to use Grus or another genus name)
Species (my Brolga!): Antigone rubicunda

Amazing! I know something!

Day 59

Author Big Year

I’d love to be immersed in 1957, writing up German post-war reactor efforts, but today is urgent editing of Gentle & Tusk #2. I’m always surprised by how long it takes to process editing input – in this case from a hired copyeditor and six “beta readers” – and how unenjoyable the task is. But it must be done. And soonest!

Days 45 to 58: An unequal struggle but keep going

Author Big Year

Another 14 days and much the same story, tracking at 6 hours a day, not the minimum of 6½, definitely not the preferred 8 hours a day to compensate for non-working days. I have to say it’s a tough issue, squeezing out the hours. Grandparenting duties have begun and they’re so joyous it makes no sense to resist them. Friends needed help. The sun shone and I’m trying to get back my running mojo. Red wine… well, what can I say?

I’m still on the case, however, and the next week should see me alight with purpose. I’m aiming to report back on progress more often, in more detail, to really hammer out what it takes to meet this onerous Big Year’s strictures.

Author Big Year: Monitoring

Author Big Year

The dynamics of this 13-month Big Year, in which I aim for 6.5 hours of quality writing work every day, require me to monitor more closely than I’m accustomed to of late. You’d think that after three decades in the corporate world, I’d be scrupulous at measurement and feedback, but in fact I tend to get lost in the days and the work.

So let me take a quick look. I’ve had a month and a half. I’m aiming for 6.5 hours/day but need more hours now, before interruptions like travel cut the hours, so a “clean” day should deliver 8 hours. What have I achieved? The bare minimum of 6 hours. I should be happy enough but need to work harder. This issue is important because a poor start will ruin me. I’ll try to check in more often. Wish me luck!