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).