20 June 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 4 comments

In a comment to last night’s post, Charles Bowery asked, “You may have done this before, but for the benefit of the members of your fan club who also write, could you do an entry describing your work methods? How much time you spend daily, how you set up your space, how you use technology/notes, etc.” Good questions, Charles. Interestingly, I had already thought of addressing these questions on my own, and was intending to do so. I’m going to break this up into a couple of pieces, so the first part will run tonight and the rest tomorrow night. Tonight, I will address the logistical issues that Charles mentioned in his comment, and tomorrow night, I will address the actual mechanics of how I go about writing.

When I’m in writing mode, I try to write at least two hours at a time, at least three nights per week. That’s about the minimum time for me to be reasonably productive, and I need to sustain it in order to develop some momentum and make substantial progress toward the completion of the project. I try to write between three and five pages of new material each night when I do write. I find that’s a good benchmark, as it covers the actual writing as well as the sourcing work that I have to do. Anyone who’s familiar with my work knows that I’m pretty fanatical about footnoting, and I also like to include substantive material in footnotes, and all of that takes time.

How do I set up my space? That’s easy. I do virtually all of my writing on my laptop. I haven’t written a major project on a desktop computer in years. That way, even though I am working very intensely on what I’m doing, I can still do it in the same room with Susan and the dogs, and I have the TV for just a little bit of distraction. I need a little bit of distraction to be able to concentrate, which is why I firmly believe that I have a mild but undiagnosed case of ADD.

I work on the couch in our family room. All around me are piles of books and file folders of research material. I also have a nifty little rolling book cart that sits across the family room from me, and which serves to store the material that is pertinent to the specific portion of the project that I’m working on. The end table next to me is typically pretty piled up with research material, and so is the coffee table in front of me. It definitely looks like a worked-in space between my stuff and the piles of paperback books that Susan is inevitably processing into our Amazon.com database.

As for technology, I’m a pretty hardcore Mac user. I do the bulk of my writing on my Mac G-4 Powerbook laptop, which runs Mac OS X, version 10.4.6, which is also known as Tiger. I use MSWord. To say that I despise Microsoft products is an understatement (I view Microsoft as the Evil Empire, and think that the vast majority of Microsoft’s products are really crappy), and I typically refuse to use them whenever and wherever possible. Unfortunately, I have little choice but to use Word for my writing because it’s the industry standard, and because Word Perfect no longer makes a Mac version. I have a high speed flatbed scanner at my disposal upstairs, and I will regularly scan things and then use the OCR software to convert them to Word files, which can be a great way to save time.

I have the OR’s, Southern Historical Society Papers, and Confederate Military History on CD-ROM, but the truth is that I much prefer to use the books. I own a complete set of the OR, and I generally prefer to use them when doing my work because I like to thumb through the pages of the OR to see what little hidden treasure I might find that might not be picked up by the search engines on the CD-ROM’s. I do use the CD-ROM’s to avoid having re-type lengthy passages, but OCR is imperfect, and you have to be especially vigilant about looking for typos and the like in what you retrieve from the CD-ROM’s.

My personal Civil War library consists of somewhere between 1200 and 1500 Civil War books, including the 128 volumes of the OR’s (I haven’t counted recently and have pretty much lost count). Due to space/storage limitations, the vast majority of what I buy, probably 90%, is stuff that’s pertinent to my work, meaning that most of my library is a working research library. The truth is that most of my pleasure reading is NOT Civil War–at the moment, I’m reading the newest W.E.B. Griffin OSS novel for my mindless bed time pleasure reading. The library is upstairs.

In addition, I also have about a dozen banker’s boxes filled with manila file folders of research material. The stuff is typically organized by subject matter, and usually by project. Sometimes, there’s overlap between the books upstairs and the contents of the research files, but for the most part, the material is different. I always maintain a working bibliography as new material is received, thereby enabling me to keep track of what I’ve got.

When I’m ready to tackle a project, I will go upstairs, pull all of the pertinent files and books, cull through them and decide what I want to use, and then get to work.

Tomorrow night, I will address the mechanics of how I actually put together my various projects.

Charles, I hope that this boring little diatribe is what you were looking for…..Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. 🙂

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Randy Sauls
    Wed 21st Jun 2006 at 9:54 am

    Eric:

    I envy your ability to write on a laptop, or for that matter any kind of computer. I just can’t do it. Anything of length and substance that I write is done long hand, on legal pads. Somehow the thoughts in my brain travel better to my hand and a pen than to my fingers and a keyboard. Of course I do transcribe what I’ve written longhand into the computer later, and I invariably clean up and refine some thoughts in the process. Obviously your method works well for you and you are very organized. Ever keep photo’s or illustrations posted nearby for inspiration? Works for me.

    Randy

  2. Wed 21st Jun 2006 at 2:47 pm

    Randy,

    Writing is such a person thing….I am so used to typing, and I type much, much faster than I write, that nothing else makes sense.

    I do keep photos nearby. They do work.

    Eric

  3. Wed 21st Jun 2006 at 3:03 pm

    As a semi-professional screenwriter I have never been able to write much on a laptop. I have a real nice one with a big screen, but still it does not feel right. Now I am 6’1″ 230 pounds so I need room. I have a big 19 inch lcd screen, lots of elbow room, ect. I teach screenwriting and I always advise my students to set goals, realistic ones. So many pages a day or week, or whatever. Eric’s writing schedule is perfect as it allows for flexibility and optimizes work time. If you sit at your computer for more than a few hours at a time, you’ll find yourself surfing the web, playing games, or just stare at your screen. Another thing I have always suggested is not go back and rewrite what you are writing that day as you will start doing more rewriting and your writing slows considerably. So one strategy is the next morning when I start, I reread again what I wrote the day before and then do any touchups or fixes. Then I start with the new material. I have to be able to let go of the last page to work on the next. But not everyone will have the same style. As writers we’re always working. I find myself having coffee with my wife and my mind is working… processing…thinking. I can be in the grocery store for God’s sake and my mind is somewhere else. Anyway, good stuff Eric. Here’s an article I wrote that might be of some interest: http://www.screenwritersutopia.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=2761

  4. Wed 21st Jun 2006 at 3:56 pm

    Chris,

    Thanks for weighing in. It’s interesting to see how everyone else tackles the same issues.

    Thanks also for sharing the article.

    Eric

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