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How I’m Writing This Book

I have been asked about how I am actually writing my book just now.   Here are some reflections.

One of the things you figure out pretty quickly when writing a book is that it never goes as planned.   Things (usually) take longer than you thought they would; or they (rarely) go faster.  For most authors, the structure of the book changes as they start writing it, and they realize that they really have to say more about this and they really probably should say less about that.   They realize that, contrary to what they thought, they need to devote an entire chapter to something that they had planned to cover in a few paragraphs.   Key (verbal) illustrations that they planned to use don’t actually work that well.  And they come up with new ideas in the process of writing.

Different authors have remarkably different approaches to writing.   My wife Sarah and I are about as different as they come.  In large measure, I think, that’s because our brains work so differently.

Sarah is drop-dead brilliant.   But her brain simply doesn’t work like mine.  I am a very …


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My Memory Book, chs. 1-2
Sketch of My Memory Book



  1. Avatar
    MatthewAMcIntosh  April 6, 2015

    I absolutely connect with your wife. That is how I have always written. I will read, read, read, read – take notes and mark what I want to use, what gives me ideas, etc. I always have a general pre-planned structure and I know basically what I will write, but it’s always a surprise even to me when I’m finished where I may end up. It’s a curse more than a blessing, I think. I wish my mind were as structure, as “linear,” as yours.

  2. Avatar
    doug  April 6, 2015

    I love reading your books, but I hate it when I’m done – it was such a feast for the mind! Sometimes I re-read them. So if you want to write longer books, that would be fine with me.

  3. Avatar
    Judith  April 6, 2015

    This is completely fascinating to those of us more the butterfly type – here, there and yonder.

  4. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  April 6, 2015

    Thanks so much for this post. It’s always helpful–and often inspiring and/or clarifying–to read how someone goes about things whether it’s cooking or working in Photoshop or writing. I always think I know what I’m going to say but, I’m disappointed to have discovered, once I begin writing, begin to see how little I know what I’m talking about and must go back to my studying. Being primarily a folksinger, poet, and landscape photographer (with an M.A. in philosophy), I am amazed, looking back, at how far I’ve come in using Photoshop and in my understanding of the scholarship in first century Judaisms and the New Testament and the issues involved–that is, COMPARED TO MOST LAYPEOPLE I KNOW. Ha.

  5. Avatar
    Jason  April 6, 2015

    Does Sarah do any “trade” book writing? (I’ve decided I like her for the bit about Derrida!)

  6. Avatar
    EBHinNC  April 7, 2015

    I am surprised and very happy that “before the gospels” is the subject now!! Recently I’ve been thinking more about the long line of transmission between whatever happened in the 30’s and now.

    I’m disappointed that Luke/Acts’ Jesus isn’t a topic (though understand the choices), because that Jesus appeals to me most — which has made me wonder if the personality I’m drawn to is not necessarily Jesus, but whoever composed that particular portrait.

    Thich Nhat Hanh in “Going Home: Jesus and Buddha As Brothers” talks about people having many “spiritual ancestors” that they can “touch” whenever they need to — for himself, not only Buddha and his own father, but also Jesus as an ancestor whom he can “touch” for a spirit of compassion, energy, and insight. But is this portrait related to the historical person? Is each of us justified in constructing our own misremembery?

    Thank you for helping us think!!

    • Bart
      Bart  April 7, 2015

      Whether we’re justified or not, I’m afraid each of us does construct our own misremembery.

  7. Avatar
    madmargie  April 7, 2015

    Sounds fascinating! I love to read your books…even one of your textbooks but I bought your lectures from a few years ago, and couldn’t sit through them.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 7, 2015

      Try standing?

    • Avatar
      Adam0685  April 7, 2015

      Not very long ago I was a full-time student for 7 years straight. Listening to Bart’s lectures (unfortunately, not in person, but through the Great courses), I consider him to be one of the best lecturer I’ve listened to.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 7, 2015

    I think like you think. Here is some of that thinking:

    1. One of the most important things you have taught me is the list of 8 reasons, given in one of your recent Great (Teaching Company) Courses, establishing why the Gospels probably were not written by eyewitnesses. I could see those 8 reasons being discussed in an early chapter of your book in order to establish that there had to have been a significant period of oral transmission and memory issues since the Gospel writers were not eyewitnesses or colleagues of eyewitnesses. This may be clear to scholars, but not to many Barnes and Noble readers.
    2. I could also see a early section of your book discussing the dating of the Gospels including that they had to have been written after the death of Paul, or he would have mentioned them, and after the destruction of the temple, since it is mentioned in the Gospels. This means that there had to have been decades of oral transmission and memory issues before the Gospels were written. Again, this may be clear to scholars, but not to many Barnes and Noble readers.
    3. With respect to oral transmission, if I understand it correctly, I think many Jews contend that Moses, in addition to receiving written tablets, also received a companion oral revelation, an oral Torah, from God. Talk about memory. So, in the Jewish tradition, there is a linkage between oral and written laws.

    I used to belong to a fiction writer’s group and most of the creative writers there thought like your wife thinks and were totally appalled by the idea of an outline….

  9. Avatar
    jbjbjbjbjb  April 7, 2015

    Really helpful! So tempting to write before those preliminary stages are in place.

  10. Avatar
    Jeff  April 11, 2015

    Off-topic, again: I know you are a Tar Heels fan but I believe your wife teaches at Duke? If so, please pass on a big congrats regarding the Blue Devils winning the National Championship. Maybe next year my Spartans will get a little closer.

  11. Avatar
    Steefen  April 11, 2015

    Well, I thought writing the second edition of my book (two sections: Hebrew Bible and Paul & Jesus), the second edition mostly being a major overhaul of the Paul & Jesus section, would be something to do but it is amazing a book takes on its own life. Is it a teenager or a young adult with issues or what?! Just one part of the second edition has turned into a 2 hr: 44 min video on Josephus, Jesus, Son of Man, Tribulation (Jewish Revolt), sacrifice for atonement (two ancient Roman wars and Jesus), the Jewish Revolt , Paul, Christianity, and the metaphorical and literal meaning of eating Jesus’ body and blood.

    What was supposed to be a few pages has bloomed into 60+ pages of a YouTube PowerPoint presentation (that has gotten more than 400 views). And to show how work turns into a horse that wants to run where IT wants to go, I’m on the third edition of the YouTube video, not knowing when I’m getting back to creating the second edition book to replace the first edition.

    At the moment I feel like crying. And when I try to put the 60+ pages back into my 2nd edition work, the indexing is going to be quite a lot of work.

    So, whatever you’re going through, I feel you.

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