Several readers have suggested that this kind of post should be available on the blog for everyone, not just members. I think they’re right!
The next two weeks are going to be highly intense for me, and I’m a bit worried about how I will be able to fit in my “blog time.” The reason: I will be throwing myself day and night into writing my next book.
Background Part One: As I think I’ve mentioned on the blog before, I try to write three different kinds of books for three different audiences. This keeps life interesting and varied for me. First, I write books for scholars, in which I try to advance serious scholarship, speaking the language that works with my colleagues who have PhD’s in the field and who are deeply conversant with all the ancient and modern languages and with all the major critical and historical issues. My most recent work of this kind is due out in October: Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in the Early Christian Tradition. It will be a long and complex treatment of the subject – over 600 pages; a real contrast to my popular book Forged, written on the same subject but to a different audience.
Second, I write popular books (called “trade books” for some reason) for general audiences. These are ones in which I attempt to communicate what scholars have uncovered for popular audiences, for the “Barnes and Noble Crowd” (among whom I proudly number myself, for books outside my area of expertise). These are the books that I am best known for, since they reach the widest audience. I try to space these out, so that I write one every two years. My next one will be on How Jesus Became God, which I hope to write this coming Spring, so it will be published, if all goes well, in Spring 2014.
Third, I write textbooks for college-level courses, mainly in New Testament and early Christianity. I have two separate textbooks on the New Testament that get used widely throughout the country, and several anthologies of readers – collections of ancient texts in translation which get used in a variety of courses in the field.
The book I am going to start writing tomorrow (tomorrow!) is the third type of book, a college textbook, not, however, on the New Testament alone, but on the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, for colleges that offer a one semester course that covers the whole shooting match. I am not in favor of this kind of course, but about half the colleges in the country teach it, if they teach Bible at all. And I think there needs to be a better textbook for it.
Background Part Two: When I write – that is, when I no longer am doing the research for a project but am sitting down to write the actual words/pages/chapters/book – life gets very intense for me. One of the things that I happen to be able to do very well, thank the gods, is focus. And my writing is very focused. It is hard to express or explain, but it feels like I have a large amount of energy walled up inside of me, and when I write, I let it go.
Normally I will write (that is, type out the words/pages/chapters) for six or seven intense hours a day, starting in the early morning until I finish. For my trade books (and a bit less so for my college textbooks; this doesn’t apply to my scholarship which is much harder to put into writing) I can normally write 14,000 to 16,000 words a day, with this kind of schedule. It is exhilarating. I don’t answer my phone, I shut the door to my study, I put on my headphones, and I write intensely, pounding away at the key board as fast as my fingers will fly, for hours. I will usually take a 20 minute lunch break, and then get back to it, and keep going either until I finish the chapter I’m working on, or until I’m brain dead and can’t do it anymore.
Then I go to my basement exercise room, work out for a couple of hours, take a steam bath (I had an old, small bathroom in my basement converted into a steam room!), eat a nice dinner, have some nice wine, vegetate in the evening, and get a solid night’s sleep, and the next day, do it again.
With this kind of system, I can normally write a trade book in two weeks. I then need to edit it, polish it, mop up loose ends, and so forth. But the writing is the hard part, and I do it with bursts of intensity.
So, my next book, starting tomorrow, is my Bible textbook. I have two weeks, and I won’t have it all written by then, as it will be much longer than one of my tradebooks. My goal is to have the entire Old Testament section written before I go to England to join up with my beloved Sarah, who is already there for a program she’s teaching for Duke students. (We have a flat in London – Sarah’s a Brit – and spend a good chunk of the summer there every year.) That means I will have the house to myself, with almost no distractions, and I can work like a wild man.
Which I plan to do. My goal is to have all eight of the chapters on the Old Testament written before I fly the friendly skies. If I don’t meet the goal – it’s highly ambitious – that will be OK. In London I’ll have a month while Sarah is still teaching her class (it’s on theater; they discuss a play in class in the morning, and go see it performed that night! A great program.) and will be able to work every day there. It won’t be as intense, as it won’t be my home study. But it’ll be enough to finish the OT section of the book and to make serious inroads into the NT.
My goal is to have the entire thing finished by the end of September. I want to get onto the next project, doing my research for How Jesus Became God. More than anything else this is what drives me to write fast – wanting to get to the next project, which always sounds even more interesting than the current one![/private]