Many weeks have passed since I was at my top form as a researching-writing-editing machine. I can blame/excuse/explain a certain amount of that, but the fact remains, as the handy clicker at the bottom of the screen shows, that time is passing and this sabbatical will come to an end and the project has got to, got to, got to get done. I have tied off those distractions with a bow, as much as I can, or sent them to the corner with a time-out. This is the day, this is the week, to get back to it full-time.
What that return entails, and part of the reason it’s been hard to face, is the reduction of my manuscript by about one-third of its length. This is no longer editing down the story to make a more compelling version of that story. Drawing from some very important, indeed necessary, but still hard-to-take advice that I got from a senior colleague who has always been very nice to me, especially considering that he is a famous person in the field we share and I am not, is to find a shorter story. That’s a simple thing to say, and a wise thing to say; it’s a freaky hard thing to do. I’ve nursed one idea of what this book was about for a few years, but–especially after talks with potential publishers–it’s just not viable in its current heft.
The irony is, as explained by one potential editor, that the length would be fine if my architect was already well-known. But I have to publish this thing to introduce him to a lot of folks.
I don’t like unleashing my turmoil on the world but maybe it will be useful for someone else to read, and also hopefully it will be important for me to commit to this new approach once I air it on the interwebs. I need to find a smaller story and edit to that, ruthlessly casting aside what will be, no doubt, a lot of great stuff that I have toiled over. BUT I WILL NOT GRIEVE for I am not casting out my baby to be eaten by a dingo. A better metaphor is carving a smaller, but equally beautiful, sculpture out of one that was nearly complete, leaving enough stone intact for later work down the road.
This will work out, this will work out, this will work out. But the first step is to face the digital files that have been collecting virtual dust for a while, and follow Patrick Rothfuss’ advice as pictured above. More encouragement to come. One day I will look back on this as the day I turned the barge, away from stormy seas and into the harbor of publication viability. YES THAT’S IT!
Since my last post, a month ago, I still haven’t quite gotten back to the relentless single focus that characterized the preceding six months. The continued pull of opportunities from the big professional group to which I belong (and recently, its annual conference), continued conversation about an opportunity at my home institution (requiring a few meetings here and there, a new vein of literature to attack briefly and furiously, and plenty of personal reflection), a family spring break excursion, and suddenly required computer maintenance have all taken their toll on my work on The Great Work.
This all makes me antsy, and worry that in the future, especially after the new academic year opens and my time is no longer my own, I will regret not having lengthy spans of time to devote to research and writing. But hopefully I will remember that the majority of this time has been spent in worthy pursuits, and that, likewise, I would regret, in future, having not taken advantage of some of the surprises that came my way in these last few months. Sabbatical is a wonderful opportunity to retire from the normal routine and demands of academic life, but not a place of absolute sequestration. I am glad I have been justified in saying no to a certain number of requests for my time–typically when my participation could have been replaced by some other person or when my absence would not really make a big difference in the grand scheme of things–but at the same time, have needed to say yes so as to not be too far out of the stride of my discipline and my university once August rolls around.
At the same time, the Great Work continues to loom large. In part thanks to the recent conference, I have a renewed energy to tuck in again and, what’s more, today should have the meeting that finally puts one of the extra-curricular issues to rest. Several months remain. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale …
Picture: Original drawing for the London Underground roundel symbol designed by Edward Johnston. I would have liked to have made one that read “Distraction Street,” but didn’t need the additional . . . well, you know.