Writing retreat

My good friend and most gracious lady, Queen Joan, whom I have oft attended when she did make a royal progress, recently requested the presence of myself and my old friend Lady Maud at the Biona Camp for Wilde Wommene and Colony of Enditers, where we did disport us most marvellously well.

And where I wrote about 5000 words, in less than a week, plus did some work on the translation project, and all quite painlessly.

My friends did not mind if I went to bed early. I got up around 6:30, when it got light, made a cup of tea, and went to a desk that had been cleared for me. I worked till around 9:00, when Joan and Maud were up, and then we’d have breakfast and do yoga together. Afternoons were spent at the beach or a park, before dinner out. In the evenings, we worked on a jigsaw puzzle. Hanging out and catching up was blissful.

There were no cats. The social life was built in, and took place in the afternoons and early evenings, instead of keeping me out late. Moreover, it did not involve discussion of movies and TV shows that I haven’t seen and am not interested in. There were no household distractions (call here, arrange that, get the other fixed) because it wasn’t my house. I went to my desk with a sense of pleasurable anticipation, eager to discover what that day’s work would bring.

Now, I love my cats, but they are a total pain in the ass in the morning, wanting to be fed as soon as I wake up, and if I don’t do it, Basement Cat will start banging cupboard doors, which wakes Sir John, and picking fights with the Grammarian, and so on and so forth. So when I work early in the mornings at home, it’s with one ear straining first for the pathetic cries of a black cat who can’t bear to be locked up any longer, and then for the hissing and grumbling from downstairs, and then I have to go close the bathroom door to stop the cupboard-banging. All four get different things for breakfast, because the Grammarian has kidney problems and the Tiny Cat has vitamins mixed in with her food and the Shakespearean Heroine gets other stuff mixed in for her joint problems. Basement Cat gets Prozac on his. So it’s not a matter of just putting out more kibble and getting on with things. Breakfast is a production, and flings me into housekeeping-caretaking mode.

I’m still working, now that I’m back, but a little more slowly and with rather more grim determination than pleasurable anticipation. Intense nostalgia for the break and deep gratitude to Queen Joan set in about ten minutes after I woke up yesterday.

What’s the test?

Nicoleandmaggie asked “Is there a test you can take to see if you’re with book or not?”

This is precisely the question I have. How do you know when you’re writing a book?

I haven’t done this before. I did not turn my dissertation into a book. It was conceived as a series of linked studies, discussions of the way a single theme worked in multiple texts. I mined it for articles (one good one, part of another, one bad one that never got published), and got tenure by writing articles. I’m not exactly an article-producing machine, but I do have a good idea of how to write an article and what one looks like.

Over the years, I have planned two books (two different takes on the main idea, since there came a point where it seemed the first version wouldn’t work), and worked on them in fits and starts: a conference paper here, another there, chapter “dump files” on my laptop into which I put quotations and insights I hope to use in that chapter. These files are not even zero-drafts, just a place to collect bits and pieces. For the last couple of years, I have been trying to clear the decks of various articles in various stages of production so that I could stop being distracted by such unfinished material and work on the latest version of the Putative Book as my sole project.

So this summer’s article project was supposed to be part of that deck-clearing. I did not expect a conference paper to turn monograph-sized. But having finished writing up the first section of my outline and coming in around 6000 words this morning, either I am being incredibly long-winded, or I’m looking at a longer project.

Five chapters of around 6000 words each would be 30K words. I’m looking a friend’s monograph, 128 pages before the notes and bibliography. Assuming 250 words to a page, that’s 32K words. I think I’m in that ballpark.

So what’s the test? How do you tell? How and when did you, gentle readers who have written books, know that that was what you were doing?