29 July 2009 by Published in: Research and Writing 7 comments

Regular reader Art Fox left me this comment:

Hi Eric,

I read your blog almost daily. Am amazed at how you can manage so many book projects, magazine articles, appearances, in addition to a law practice. I am a semi-retired university professor, and have had only two books published in the past 6 years: Our Honored Dead Allegheny Co.PA in the American Civil War (2008,2009), and Pittsburgh During the American Civil War, 1860-1865 (2002,2004,2009), and will probably be working on my present project – They Served with Honor, Allegheny county Soldiers at The Battle of Gettysburg, a 150 Anniversary Commemoration – for the next 3 years. My question to you brother – Is how do you do it, what is your secret – Congratulations in what you have added to Civil War History.

Art fox, Pittsburgh

I thought I would answer his question.

Art, first, let me say thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them very much.

How do I do what I do? Hmmmm….good question. Some background will give you some insight.

First, and foremost, while I am good at my day job, I often do not find it rewarding and often find myself asking what the hell I was thinking getting into the legal business in the first place. The practice of law can be very frustrating and very stressful, and I welcome having an escape for a couple of hours each night when I am in serious writing mode. Being able to lose myself in events that happened 140+ years ago is a great release for me.

Second, I haven’t got children to chase after. While my friends are going hither and yon hauling kids to activities–time consuming and often exhausting–I don’t have that particular encumbrance. My kids have four legs, and if I play with them for 15-20 minutes, they’re happy and good for the evening. That means I have plenty of time to write and not a lot in the way of distractions.

I also have a very short attention span. I find it nearly impossible to just sit and do nothing, and I likewise find it nearly impossible to just sit and watch TV. I need to have something to do pretty much all the time (the truth is that I think I have a pretty bad case of ADD, but they didn’t really know what it was when I was a kid in school), and it usually needs to be something that keeps my mind active, or else I go totally bonkers. What better way than writing?

My short attention span also means that I have to finish a project and move on. That stems, in part, from how I have to write at work. I write all day, every day, at work. Consequently, I’ve learned to be efficient in my writing. I’ve never been one to labor over a single sentence for hours on end. I would rather get it down on paper and then work on it.

Researching and writing is how I really learn something. If I want to really learn about something, I research it and I write about it; doing so forces me to really learn it. That’s why nearly all of my projects start out as things that interest me; if others find them interesting, all the better, but most of what I write about is to satisfy my own curiosity about things.

I am also very fortunate indeed to have a spouse who not only understands this compulsion of mine, but who supports it wholeheartedly. There is simply no way that I could get done what I get done without Susan’s unflinching support. She understands and appreciates my compulsive need to write, and she supports it. She understands the expenditures involved in doing the research, and she supports them. She understands the investment of time and the level of intensity that’s involved with my writing, and she not only supports it, there are times when she reminds me that I’m not being as productive as I should be. Bottom line: without Susan’s unwavering support, none of this would be possible. She just wishes that the venture was more profitable and that we got a better return on the financial investment.

Finally, I have a great deal of inflexible personal discipline. When I am in writing mode, I write at least 2 hours per night, at least three nights per week. If I do that, the results just flow. That’s part of my compulsion to get things finished and then to move on to the next project.

Some might think I’m nuts. Perhaps I am. But this work is how I relax after a long day at the office, and being able to immerse myself in events of the past is how I keep whatever semblance of sanity that remains….

Thanks again for writing, Art. I hope this little stream-of-consciousness rambling of mine has given you the insight you were looking for.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Thu 30th Jul 2009 at 1:42 am

    Eric,

    Thank you for sharing how your research and writing fits into your life. I agree that having a loving and supportive wife is key to being a happy and productive writer! I have a full-time job, but I really enjoy the few hours at night when I’m able to work on my writing projects. My kids are still at the age when they want Dad around–which is a great thing and I enjoy spending time with them. I used to really feel guilty when they were younger and I wanted to steal a few hours away to read and write (they’re only young once, I would remind myself). It’s still a balancing act, but I enjoy writing as often as I can.

  2. James Durney
    Thu 30th Jul 2009 at 9:59 am

    Thanks Susan.

  3. Dan
    Thu 30th Jul 2009 at 10:23 am

    >Some might think I’m nuts.

    No way!!!
    8^>

    Keep up the good work, Eric.

    Remember, most all the great writers were a bit whacked.

    Dan

  4. Thu 30th Jul 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Eric,

    You are describing me perfectly. While I am not a lawyer, I have much restless energy that allows me to focus on the project at hand – be it a blog article or a project at my real job. When I get into my writing mode, I check out of the real world and enter the topic I am researching. Once I’m done with the research, the words flow freely – sometimes too freely making the article too long. I really appreciate you sharing this with your blog readers as it hit home for me. Thank you for your hard work.

    Mike Noirot

  5. Fri 14th Aug 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Mr. Wittenberg,

    I stumbled across you in a mad fit of Civil-War-related googling and hope you don’t mind me pulling up a virtual easy chair. I’m an amateur wanderer of battlefields who also has dogs rather than kids. Thank you for sharing this piece of yourself along with all the research and effort you put into the blog.

    Andrea

  6. Fri 14th Aug 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Andrea,

    My pleasure, and welcome aboard. I will be adding your blog to my blog roll next week when I get home from vacation.

    Eric

  7. jesse james
    Mon 04th Oct 2010 at 7:37 pm

    What is the name of the dying officer that stated to General Lawrence Chamberlain”I did what you told me to do”.

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