(The rest of this series is available at the following links: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.)

I had big plans when I wrote my book proposal in 2006. I even had a schedule that I posted in my office outlining how I would write one chapter each semester, starting in Fall 2007. If I could write three seminar papers per semester in grad school, surely I could complete one per semester as a professor. If I wrote one chapter during the summer months, I would be finished with all nine chapters a year before the submission deadline. Brilliant!

One new academic appointment, one cross-country move, one child, and two years later (August 2008), I had started the first chapter. Instead of a leisurely pace of one chapter per semester, my writing schedule ended up like this:

Chapter 1

Started: 8-8-08

First draft completed: 12-14-09

Chapter 2

Started: 12-4-09

First draft completed: 3-1-10

Chapter 3

Started: 3-26-10

First draft completed: 6-1-10

Chapter 4

Started: 6-1-10

First draft completed: 7-8-10

Chapter 5

Started: 6-4-10

First draft completed: 1-21-11

Chapter 6

Started: 1-21-11

First draft completed: 5-4-11

Chapter 7

Started: 3-15-11

First draft completed: 5-4-11

Chapter 8

Started: 5-26-11

First draft completed: 6-8-11

Chapter 9

Started: 6-8-11

First draft completed: 7-25-11

As you can see, most of my progress came during the summer months. While I wrote during the regular academic year, fitting in the time was more difficult.

My advice for writing isn’t rocket science. It boils down to:

1. Use the summer months wisely. If you usually teach, then try to find funding to buy out that time and write. If you don’t typically teach, then write. You don’t have to become a hermit, ignore your family and friends, or forego relaxation, but you can’t take the summer off and expect to pick back up where you left off when the whirlwind of the fall semester begins.

2. Guard your writing time during the academic year. During the years I was writing the Jackson biography, I taught a 3-3 load. In addition to teaching, we are contractually required to hold ten office hours a week, and our campus culture is to have an open-door policy. (CU is an SLAC.) Beginning in the Spring 2010 semester, I also assumed responsibility as the program director for history, which included updating and maintaining program assessment for our regional accreditation through SACS. On top of all that, I performed the usual university service requirements, including committee work.

Guarding my writing time, then, was crucial if I were ever going to finish the book. My solution was to close my door at least two afternoon hours each weekday to write. Sometimes, I would ILL books and articles or do other book-related work, but my goal was to write for those two hours. Sometimes, I only managed 50 words; at other times, I could write 1,000. The point was simply to write.

Part 6 is here.

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