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!
Wrestling the right story, let alone an accurate one, out of the late 56/early 57 morass of Italy and Euratom is a killer.
Hence the affirmation or homily, depending on how you see things.
The scary vast vista is also the one that sets the soul alight.
My fourth year of the Big Decade commences tomorrow. It’ll be nothing like the first three years. This time I have no exercise component, this time I’m putting all my eggs in one basket (almost). My Author Big Year is, frankly, much like the writing Big Years of 2016, 2017, and 2018, but now it looms even larger. Make or break, that’s what it is.
For those of you unaccustomed to the seriousness with which the obsessives of the world take their obsessions, you may not understand why I use the word TERROR. But right now, looking forward, that’s what I contemplate.
Introverts can find even the most uplifting, convivial festive season to be emotionally sapping. On December 27, five minutes past eight in the morning, I’m in Finders Keepers, the finest cafe in Melbourne. My stuff. My pen.
Calm descends once more.
Darwin, then Sydney, as much time as possible on narrating the beginning of nuclear power in Western Europe in the late 1940s and early-to-mid 1950s. I got in more time in the first locale, simply because there’s a granddaughter in the Sydney, but overall I made a good start. Belgium is done and I’m tidying up Norway and the Netherlands. Sweden is next, followed by Italy.
Concluding Van Jackson’s “Nuke Your Darlings” blog about writing a history book… “Well, I missed yesterday’s entry,” writes Jackson (Entry 79 of 92) on April 6, 2018. “I’m an exhausted bag of bones by evening time.” On the return flight, his blog reveals that he sees life as “a collection of habits interspersed with 8-Mile moments,” that phrase denoting Eminem’s movie, especially his key soundtrack song, “Lose Yourself.” (Not your stereotypical academic, eh?)
From this nadir blooms resurgence. “These final chapters are flowing,” he writes on Apr 11. In Wellington, he decides to climax the book with the upcoming Trump-Kim summit, scrambling at the last moment to wrap that into his narrative and analysis. How bold! Each April day now delivers draft slabs even while the North Korea situation explodes with rumor and news that leave him “mentally and emotionally exhausted.” In late April, jettisoning all his other mandatory commitments, “I wrote like a man possessed this weekend – more than 3,000 words [wow!].” On Apr 25, getting set to conclude drafting, he diverts to blog how he organises his day, 31 planned time segments from 5 AM to 9 PM – I know, he sounds over prescriptive, but guess what: I’m like that!
Apr 27: “700 words closer to finishing today but still not quite there.” And then we’re there, Entry 92 on April 30:
First draft complete!… It’s bittersweet, but now that I have a full draft in hand, I intend for this to be my final Nuke Your Darlings entry. As of now I have 93,000 words, which is more than the limit I agreed to in the publishing contract. I just need to pare it down as I revise. I skimmed through most of the chapters today and really like what I’ve produced. I’m kind of amazed that I did this. Hopefully readers will enjoy the final product!… These daily entries have also helped me reflect on how I write… The biggest surprise benefit of this diary is how it’s seemingly affected others.”
Well, I’m one off those affected. To hold a dream in the face of an uncaring universe is tough but wonderful.
“This weekend was crazy busy, again,” blogs Van Jackson on drafting his terrific history. It’s March 19, eight months ago! “71,000 words… The good news is that I’ll definitely have my 80,000 words by the June 1 deadline.” A TV interview the next day leaves him in “fast-brain mode on steroids,” and puzzling about Trump means he has “trouble defending my writing time today.” I fall in love with Van Jackson when, on March 22, he says “The Great Gatsby” taught him to “transform myself through discipline and routine.” (Isn’t that what my Big Decade is?) The next day, John Bolton (“Deep breath,” Jackson tells himself) is annointed by Trump as his National Security Adviser. A week later in the thick of a conference, he is stunned to hear Kim Jong Un has visited China: “… quite possibly my most unproductive day yet.” At the start of April, “cramped, dehydrated, jet lagged, and exhausted” at a San Francisco conference, he blogs, to my amazement, about what advice he gives to students thinking about doing a PhD!
A complete change of tack the next day, when with a friend:
What made us so close was our unconventional approach to the job, and to life. We both have a strange conviction that you can sort of create your own reality. Not so much in a Trumpian “fake news” sense, but in a Gatsby-ian sense. We’ve both gone about it in our own ways, but it’s what brought us to work on strategy in the first place. Both of us are prone to try big, hairy, audacious things, and both of us pay virtually no attention to the odds stacked against us when we do.
Today I’ve only covered a couple of weeks in the Van Jackson saga. Why am I spending so much time on it when I should be writing my own book? Because so few writers talk to me as me right now, doing what I’m doing, and this guy does. That para above moves me grandly because, like Jackson, I believe a decade and a half of work on the nuclear book is not wasted and will blossom.
I can take no more emotion right now.
Darwin has a greater number of fine cafes than its reputation suggests, but that doesn’t mean it’s a boon for a writer who prefers to work in a cafe. I used to cycle to Luck Bat cafe in Nightcliff but now it closes at 2 PM and often my best out-of-town drafting stretches take place mid afternoon. So I’ve relocated to Laneway cafe in Parap, 12 kms by bike (which took a full sweaty hour this morning because I had to frequently prop and navigate). A lovely place but I’m just not used to being sweaty, sweaty, and sweaty (though I shouldn’t complain, I’ve been whinging about Melbourne’s cold for months, you know how old people whinge). So yesterday saw some good work but not enough, and today has seen a most slow start. I’ll do a push right now. Bring yourself some pride, Andres.
Yesterday I left Van Jackson on February 6, 2018, at Entry 39 (of 92) of his blog about drafting “On the Brink,” in a calm space, regularly adding words (at a rate most inspiring to this author) every day amidst at busy day job. A Feb 8 downtick: “feeling so exhausted.” Then a good weekend – 1,700 words – also sees him declaring that “we’re effectively out of the [North Korean] nuclear crisis from last year.” On Feb 14: “Recently though, I developed a bit of tunnel vision for the subject of the book.” “I suppose I’m biased,” he notes five days later, “but there’s a lot of good, new stuff in this book…” Two days later, despair: “I have to let off some steam… I’m again hitting a point where I’m running myself ragged.” On Feb 27, after writing that he is trying to “emphasize chronology,” he also confides that “most of my writing tricks and practices come from movies, hip-hop lyrics, and time spent in the Pentagon.”
He bounces back “I was on a roll today, writing nearly 1,000 words in two hours [wow, says I] in the morning.” He’s now up to the Trump section of the book and, at the start of March, after castigating its “totally erratic foreign policy” (this is the day Trump hits China with tariffs), the next day he reflects on the evils of the North Korean regime. Words are now a torrent: “I am literally living through history as I write it.” On March 9, Trump says he’s going to meet Kim Jong Un in May, throwing Jackson (and all analysts and pundits) into a badly informed tizzy. Output slows. On Mar 13, he does something unprecedented, an office clean-up. On Mar 15, amidst bewilderment, he muses that his current book words are “about stuff now that I was writing about real-time as a commentator.” It’s March 16, Entry 67 of 92, and “I wrote 730 words today despite puzzling my way,” via the blog, about Trump’s upcoming summit.
I’m panting with excitement. Here he is, drafting a book unfolding right now, in which he was recently a participant. How on earth does he continue? Why doesn’t he fold?