09 February 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 4 comments

Mark Grimsley has an interesting post on his blog today about writing. Like me, Mark has been writing in some form or another for nearly his entire life. Like me, it’s something that he struggles with, constantly trying to improve his skills. In his post, Mark mentions a book titled Professors as Writers, which is intended to help academics improve their writing skills. What makes this pertinent to me is that the book seems to provide a recipe for making the most effective and most productive use of small blocks of time.

Mark’s days are filled with teaching, grading papers, meeting/counseling students and advisees, tending to his bureaucratic/administrative duties at the university, and shoehorning in time to do research. Consequently, he finds himself with only small blocks of time for writing.

My days are not much different. My days are spent meeting with clients, going to court, doing depositions, client development, administrative duties, tending to Ironclad’s needs, and more other distractions than I could hope to describe here. In short, my days are filled, often too filled. I’ve had to learn to do just what Mark’s talking about–being extremely efficient in my use of time. When it’s time to write, I try to set aside two hour blocks for doing so. I try to write three nights a week (it doesn’t matter which three, so long as I get three). Susan knows that when I’m in writing mode, it’s basically total immersion, that I get so focused and intent on what I’m doing that I’m barely conscious of what’s going on around me.

With my short attention span, that’s how it has to be. Otherwise, I get distracted, and if I get distracted, I’m done. It’s really that simple. To her everlasting credit, Susan knows and understands that about me, and she is usually willing to do what it takes to accommodate that, even if it means that I’m not much help with things like laundry or letting the dogs out. The trade-off, of course, is that when I’m not writing, I have to do what I can to help with these things, and I do so whenever possible.

People often ask how I’m able to be as prolific as I am with the incredibly hectic/insane schedule that I keep. It’s because I am able to completely immerse myself in my writing work several nights per week, and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t come close to finishing anything. My ability to do so is entirely dependent upon my terribly understanding and patient wife, without whom none of this would be possible.

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  1. Fri 10th Feb 2006 at 11:05 am

    How true, Eric. I find myself with the same situation – hectic schedule, where writing necessarily becomes not a leisure, but another block in that schedule. We’re both lucky having understanding spouses – and in my case, a teen-age daughter as well – who let us immerse ourselves when in writing mode. When I’m deep into a particular writing session (typically 1 to 4 hours, so your 2-hour average is similar) the girls know that I’m basically deaf to anything going on around me ๐Ÿ˜‰

    About one weekend a month, they will take a trip to the in-laws’ a couple hours away, and give me a good part of the weekend to work. I relish those only because I usually get a great deal done. Sure, I miss them for the couple days, but without such periods I’d be able to do a lot less writing. But you have to love someone who understands your need to have time once in a while to devote to the writing. I’ve got a longer attention span than you, so on those weekends I will often put in 16-20 or more hours – more than I can sometimes get in two weeks of evenings. In fact, once I have all my research, say, for a magazine article all prepared, I can knock out a 4000-word piece in that one weekend and have enough time to work on other pieces as well.

    Here’s to understanding wives. They’re priceless. And we can’t do enough for them in return. We need to constantly tell them we appreciate it.

    J.D. Petruzzi

  2. Fri 10th Feb 2006 at 11:18 am


    Indeed they are. I couldn’t do what I do without Susan’s cooperation.

    Wow….4000 words in a weekend–that’s impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever done that much.


  3. Fri 10th Feb 2006 at 2:49 pm

    My article on the First Shot at Gettysburg (to be in ACW magazine’s July issue) was written over a Saturday and Sunday afternoon back in September I think. I had all the material ready to go. Ya know, that’s the one thing I actually didn’t start out writing on the computer – I wrote that one on a legal pad on the table out on our deck. It was a beautiful weekend, so I wanted to do it in the open air and the “old fashioned” way. That Sunday evening, I typed the thing on the computer, did some tweaking and had you edit it. It was then ready to go.

    Maybe this summer I’ll do that again – maybe I’ll use the laptop this time ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, sitting on the deck watching birds, rabbits, squirrels and deer, with an ice-cold libation at hand, is a great way to get inspired and creative!


  4. Daniel Chambers
    Mon 13th Feb 2006 at 9:32 pm

    Mr. Grimsley is also kind enough to take the time to answer email questions from the likes of me!


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