Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reflections on a Writing Binge

On Friday I asked if it was possible to write 40k words in one weekend. I still think it is possible, but as those of you who followed me on Twitter (#40000wordsorgohome and @johnfea1) know, I did not reach my goal.  Having said that, I was quite happy to have churned out over 31,000 words of a rough draft.

OK--it is time to spill the beans. I was writing my final report on a public history project I have been doing with the Elizabeth Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, NJ.  Last year they hired me to write a history of James Caldwell, the minister of the church during the American Revolution. Regular readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know about the James Caldwell Project. You can read more about it here.  We even have some video.  As part of the project I spent a good part of last summer visiting mid-Atlantic archives reading manuscripts related to Caldwell's life.  This weekend it was time to put everything together in the hopes of submitting the final report by the end of the month (or thereabouts).

I also think I should say something about the "undisclosed location" where I was writing.  I have found that hotels are the best places to do this kind of binge writing.  I am not going to disclose where I was or what hotel I was staying in, but I will say this: during January summer resort and tourist areas have some amazing prices on hotels.

A few things I learned in the process:
  •  If you are going to try to write 40,000 words in a weekend make sure you have a good chair.  The chair in the hotel was OK, but by the end of the weekend my back was bothering me.
  • One should only do this kind of binge writing on rare occasions. It is not good for your health. The four hours of sleep I got each night, coupled with massive quantities of Coke and coffee (the hotel had it available 24-7), meant I had a miserable Monday and Tuesday at work.  If you are going to consume a large amount of caffeine, at least balance it with healthy meals.  I usually ate a big (free) breakfast in the hotel and then brought food with me for the rest of the day.
  • I have done this kind of binge writing before, but I have never made it public.  By announcing it on the blog and twitter I had dozens of followers to cheer me on.  I felt accountable to this virtual community.  Knowing that I had to check in every several hours made me push harder.  Thank you so much for all of your encouraging tweets!
  • If you are a historian who wants to produce a massive number of words in a short period of time, make sure your research is solid.  Since my research was spotty in places, I had to go back and check sources (mostly on Google Books and the Early American Newspapers database) before I could say what I wanted to say in the manuscript.  This was the main reason I did not reach my 40K goal.
  • If you decide to go the hotel route, make a commitment at the start that you will not turn on the television.  I think this is the first time in my entire life that I did not watch any TV in a hotel room.  (Although I did catch a few minutes of the Pro Bowl on the TV in the lobby during one of my coffee breaks).
Well, I still need to write 9000 more words on this project.  Back to work!

4 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

How cool! But don't stop to read this. Back to work!

John Fea said...

Thanks, Tom. By the way, I was talking to my wife the other day and referenced a comment on my blog(I don't think it was one of yours)and she said, "was it written by that guy with the big green glasses who always comments?"

Tim Lacy said...

TVD = BGG (big green glasses).

Thanks for this report, John---and the tips. 31,000 words in 60-some hours is amazing. - TL

Greg Jones said...

That's pretty phenomenal. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.