A First Draft is Born

 

I’m sorry to worry you: I’ve seen all the messages asking where I’ve been, all the speculation about my absence, all the posts clamoring for my return, and — what’s that, you say? You haven’t written any?

Yeah, I know. What’s up with that? I disappear for a month and no one misses me?

I’d be awfully demoralized by that, except that I’m feeling good — despite the unravelling of the West and the curious lack of clamor for my opinion about it — because I’ve been gone for a good reason. I’ve spent the past month working from dawn to dusk on the book formerly known as Brave Old World: Europe in the Age of Trump. It is now called Stitch by Stitch: The Unraveling of the West. 

At last, the first draft is complete.

I live at a northern latitude, and the Solstice has just passed, so when I say “dawn to dusk,” I’m describing a very long work day: I’ve done nothing but work on this book for days and days, barely even emerging to eat.

Parenthetically, I owe this, I think, to what’s come to be called Seasonal Affective Disorder, although I don’t know that it’s really a “disorder.” I have a great deal of creative and almost obsessive energy in the summer, when the days are long. Psychiatrists might call this mania, or hypomania, but since I use this energy to write books — rather than go on wild spending sprees, crash the stock market, or pose for naked photos while wrapped in an albino boa constrictor — I don’t think it needs to be pathologized. I might differ if you ask me again in the dead of winter, when I go into near-hibernation and can scarcely be roused from my depressed torpor, but in the summer, my mood is bright enough to accept with equanimity that this is the rhythm of my year, and I need to make good use of it.

Anyway, the point is that I’ve written the first draft. Many of you contributed, generously, to the book campaign, so I wanted to give you an update. It’s about 100,000 words, and it still needs a lot of filling-in. Some chapters are still skeletal. And of course, it needs massive revision; it’s still very far from being polished and readable. But that’s normal. All of my books began as drafts like this, and from here on, I know what to do with it. 

The first draft is by far the hardest part. Or it is  for me, anyway. I’ve heard some writers love the blank page, but I don’t. The first draft is a nightmare of confusion, false starts, and self-doubt. But once I’ve got something to work with — as I now do — I can begin the part I like: refining the argument, fixing deficiencies of logic, supporting the argument with examples, re-writing every sentence, over and over, and getting rid of the boring stuff. From here on, it’s work I enjoy.

I could not have written any of this, and could not continue to write this, without your financial support. You — entirely — made this possible. From dawn to dusk, literally, I feel grateful to everyone of you who contributed, and every single contribution has helped. Some of you sent me sweet notes when you contributed, apologizing for “only” chipping in five or ten dollars. Believe me, ten dollars is not “only” ten dollars when that’s exactly the amount you’re short on the electricity bill. You’ve kept me afloat, and you’ve given me the chance to do something I simply could not have done otherwise.

This 100,000-word draft could easily become a 300,000-word book. I can see how that happened to Gibbon. The theme is so broad, and the story so complex, that telling it properly seems to require writing at length. But I’m not Gibbon, so I have to figure out how much of what I’m writing is actually worth saying, and whether it’s worth making such a huge demand of my readers: Asking them to commit to a book that’s much longer than most on the market is perhaps asking too much..

I’m hesitant about suggesting this, but I’m going to suggest it anyway. Would any of you who contributed to the campaign like to read the draft? It is almost at the place where it could benefit from editorial scrutiny, and since it’s your money that’s supporting this project, it seems to me you’re entitled to know what’s happening to it.

Also, I’m hoping that seeing evidence that this book is really being written might prompt some of you to contribute again. On GoFundMe, it shows that I’m halfway toward the goal — but I’m actually much closer, because some of you (my Super-Patrons, and you know who you are) sent money directly to my bank account. So I’m in fact two-thirds of the way to the goal — even slightly above that. 

The goal was based on my estimate of the expenses I’d incur writing the book, and that estimate has so far been accurate. I’m not sure I can stretch out the amount I’ve got until the finish line, so once again I’m passing around the cup. Some of you have, perhaps, now seen me ask for funding so many times that you’ve come to wonder if this book will ever be finished. Reading the draft will show you that it’s well on the way, and (I hope) worthy of your support. I’d be delighted to send it to anyone who’s on the fence about sending more money. If reading a whole first draft sounds daunting, I can send a chapter, instead. Just send me a message with your email address.

I’m hesitant about suggesting this, though, for two reasons. The first is that I don’t want to be demoralized by criticism — yet. That wouldn’t be helpful — yet. There’s a lot to criticize, still, and I’m well aware of it. The best time for editorial criticism would be when I’ve revised it to the point that I can no longer easily see, by myself, what’s wrong with it.

Second, I don’t want to be corrupted by criticism — yet. The point of raising money like this was to give myself the editorial freedom to write what I think is true, without the obligation to conform to anyone else’s idea of a bestseller. I’ve realized, though, that self-publishing only liberates you from those constraints to a certain extent. If you don’t like this book, you won’t support the next one.

If I know too much about what you want to hear, my desire for your money might cause me to focus overmuch on pleasing you.

What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Writing is a job, like any other. You can’t disregard what your customers want.

Yes, I agree. But paradoxically, if you try too hard to anticipate or reinforce your readers’ opinions, you’re no longer writing a book — you’re engaging in a marketing exercise. Since one of the themes of the book is that our intellectual life has been corrupted by this impulse — to the point that we’re destroying everything that has made Western societies the world’s most successful — I’m not sure it’s a good idea to show the draft around: I’m as easily corrupted as anyone.

Still, on balance, I think if I’m asking for financial support, it makes perfect sense for you to say, “For what, exactly? What have you done with it so far?”

So if you’d like to see it, just drop me a note. I might ask that you hold not offering criticism or advice for the time being — the time will come when that will be very helpful, but that time isn’t quite now. But if you think seeing what I’m doing would help you decide whether your money has been well-spent, or whether spending more would be a good idea, I’d be delighted to show it to you.

There are 52 comments.

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  1. She Member
    She
    @She

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:I’m sorry to worry you: I’ve seen all the messages asking where I’ve been, all the speculation about my absence, all the posts clamoring for my return, and — what’s that, you say? You haven’t written any?

    Yeah, I know. What’s up with that? I disappear for a month and no one misses me?

    I’d be awfully demoralized by that, except  . . .

    Cheer up Claire, I know exactly how you feel.

    During one of the occasional roundups of the formerly disaffected and a few of those thrown out on their ear (anyone who’s been around since at least 2015 will know which one I mean, apologies for this bit of inside baseball), I received, via email, a nice form letter from TPTB, telling me how sorry they were that I was gone, and offering me two free membership months if only I’d come back.

    I couldn’t decide whether to be inestimably flattered that such luminaries as Rob Long and Peter Robinson were interested in my opinions on matters large and small, or to be ineluctably pissed off that, apparently, my opinions on matters  large and small were of so little moment that nobody had noticed that I’d never left.

    Still, I got over it, and, like you, here I still am.

    I wouldn’t mind those two free months, even now, though . . .

    Thanks for the update on the book.

    • #1
  2. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    You’ve been missed, your absence obvious. I was going to post Where’s Claire just yesterday. I’m happy all is well, and you’re AWOL with good and productive reason.

    I like the new title.

    • #2
  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Jules PA (View Comment):
    You’ve been missed, your absence obvious. I was going to post Where’s Claire just yesterday. I’m happy all is well, and you’re AWOL with good and productive reason.

    I like the new title.

    Thank you. xxx

    • #3
  4. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    Claire, congratulations on getting the draft done!!  Your point about a 300,000 word book is well taken. If that is a concern, is there any chance you could still  write those 300,000 words but break it up into several volumes,and release one at a time? I believe Edmund Morris did this with a three volume biography of Teddy Roosevelt. And while Teddy Roosevelt may have accomplished quite a bit, anything with a title that includes “The Unraveling Of The West” might require a little more fleshing out.

    Just a thought. I’m not a writer so I don’t know if this suggestion is practical for you in the real world of publishing.?

    • #4
  5. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Mazel Tov Claire.  What a good milestone.

    And auspiciously timed: iyi bayramlar!

    • #5
  6. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Claire,

    I was thinking of you just yesterday. I’d love a chance to look at the first draft anytime about a week after July 4th, not because I imagine I’ll have much helpful criticism to offer but just because I’m curious about it.

    Glad you are enjoying the summer work.

    Ansonia a.k.a. Angie a.k.a. Galer Dolan

    • #6
  7. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Your new title reminded me of the Bayeux Tapestry that lives in Bayeux, Normandy, France. I meant to see it during my trip in 2012, but traveled to Mont Saint-Michel instead.

    Imagine the howling if marauders unraveled that historic tapestry. All the more outcry needed as the great tapestry that is Western culture comes undone.

    • #7
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Ansonia (View Comment):
    Claire,

    I was thinking of you just yesterday. I’d love a chance to look at the first draft anytime about a week after July 4th, not because I imagine I’ll have much helpful criticism to offer but just because I’m curious about it.

    Glad you are enjoying the summer work.

    Ansonia a.k.a. Angie a.k.a. Galer Dolan

    I didn’t realize you were Galer! Thank you for your support, Ansonia — please send me your e-mail address in a PM; I’ll gladly send the draft.

    • #8
  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    aardo vozz (View Comment):
    If that is a concern, is there any chance you could still write those 300,000 words but break it up into several volumes,and release one at a time?

    I suspect I could, in principle, but then it would be years until the project was done — and I just don’t know if I can raise enough money for that. There’s certainly enough of a story here for many volumes. It’s a big story. And the more I think about it, the bigger and harder to explain it is: It’s every bit as big and complex as the story as the fall of the Roman Empire, and no one in his right mind would try to confine that story to a slim, pocket-sized guide suitable for sale in an airport bookstore, right?

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I am looking forward to the book.

    I only edit technical documentation though, and when I do I bleed all over it.

    • #10
  11. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I have a great deal of creative and almost obsessive energy in the summer, when the days are long.

    You could double your productivity by moving to Argentina or Australia on the Autumnal Equinox, and returning to Paris on the Vernal Equinox. I have a writer friend in Flinder’s Island. He could probably find you lodgings there. If you are interested, I can make introductions.

    Seawriter

    • #11
  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I have a great deal of creative and almost obsessive energy in the summer, when the days are long.

    You could double your productivity by moving to Argentina or Australia on the Autumnal Equinox, and returning to Paris on the Vernal Equinox. I have a writer friend in Flinder’s Island. He could probably find you lodgings there. If you are interested, I can make introductions.

    Seawriter

    If it weren’t for the cats and my father, that would be a no-brainer. Of course that’s what I’d do. And I wouldn’t spend the summers in Paris, either: This city is terribly expensive. But this is where my Pop lives, and he’s getting on in years. So I’m committed to living in walking distance from him. And moving seven cats to another country is a complete nightmare — I’ve done it, once, and I just feel grateful we all made it through that experience halfway sane.

    In a more-perfect life, I’d live somewhere where the climate didn’t do my head in, of course. But Paris isn’t hardship duty, and the summers are great.

    • #12
  13. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Well, I don’t buy what I think is your basic precept. Historically, the west has been unraveled with three exceptions: Roman Empire, Charlemagne and post-WW2. It’s just getting back to normal.

    • #13
  14. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Hang On (View Comment):
    Well, I don’t buy what I think is your basic precept. Historically, the west has been unraveled with three exceptions: Roman Empire, Charlemagne and post-WW2. It’s just getting back to normal.

    Why, I agree.

    • #14
  15. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I scanned your story as I have to get to work, but quick thoughts. I would love to see a draft, but maybe you should just keep what you release to a minimum for several reasons:

    1. Keep the suspense 2. Keep your focus – you are right – you don’t need 500 armchair editors – it would also cut into your time that you could be working on it 3. Trust your journalistic chops, as opposed to writing about what you think people want to read based on their feedback of your draft.

    I don’t know how you came up with Menace In Europe, or if you were guided in the content by those paying you, or if you were given free rein, but I vote for the free rein.  Your vision gives your books their uniqueness, like a one of a kind painting.  Also, don’t worry about the length or anything else.  I’d read an encyclopedia length if it was good.  Thanks for checking in and giving us an update. So much going on in the world, it’s a great time to be writing!

    • #15
  16. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    Your vision gives your books their uniqueness, like a one of a kind painting.

    I agree with this thought, that your book will be like a painting, tapestry, or musical work. And that you should trust your intuition, vision, expertise, experience, and talent.

    I read some of the “story” on the  gofund me page, that engaged me in the topic even more than I had been before.

    • #16
  17. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Huzzah, Claire!  Am on my way to the GoFundMe page, and would love to see the draft!

    • #17
  18. Pugshot Member
    Pugshot
    @Pugshot

    I always assumed that your infrequent appearances were the result of on-going work on “The Book.” In any event, it hasn’t been that long since your last visit. It has, however, been too long a time since my last visit to the tip jar, so I’ll be going there soon. And as you slave away, you can be buoyed up by the knowledge that you are, after all, working in Paris!  [BTW – I’m looking forward to the book, but I’ll admit, I wouldn’t mind seeing the photos with the boa constrictor either!]

    • #18
  19. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Parenthetically, I owe this, I think, to what’s come to be called Seasonal Affective Disorder, although I don’t know that it’s really a “disorder.”

    @Claire perfect for the writer in winter…..

    SunUp 10,000 LUX LED SAD Desk Lamp

     

    • #19
  20. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I think you need manuscript “reviewers” at this stage, not “editors” of any kind. Content reviewers look for big things, and they don’t distract the author with demoralizing picky criticism. They generally understand where the author is in the writing process. They do great things for authors, which is why their efforts are so appreciated by everyone, especially the authors, and they are usually acknowledged warmly in the preface. Content reviewers are usually the author’s peers and friends.

    • #20
  21. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    I’d offer to read the draft myself, except I know that with my schedule it would be a vain offer, so I’ll wait for the finished product.  For my own part, given the hints you’ve dropped here, I’m curious to see how it meshes with From Dawn to Decadence, by Jacques Barzun (a very weighty tome itself).  I think he too was struggling with some of the same observations as you – that we’d reached the end of an era, though his own observations dated from before 9/11 and that ensuing mess.

    • #21
  22. Theodoric of Freiberg Member
    Theodoric of Freiberg
    @TheodoricofFreiberg

    I like the new title. :-)

    • #22
  23. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    My Dear Dr. Berlinski,

    I have been concerned for quite some time about your absence. I would on a regular basis monitor your Twitter feed to gain some clue. Alas, this revealed nothing. The new book explains everything. It sounds very interesting more so than the previous title suggested at least to me. I wish you all good success.

    I am most glad to hear that you have not gone on wild spending sprees, crashed the stock market, or posed for naked photos while wrapped in an albino boa constrictor. Not that I would be completely disinterested in the third one.

    Regards,

    Jim

    PS  If the dress is still in the window buy it and send me the bill. When I get the bill I may regret this but you only live once and lately, I’m getting the feeling Gd is losing patience with me. Besides albino boa constrictor just doesn’t say “Claire”.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #23
  24. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    My Dear Dr. Berlinski,

    I have been concerned for quite some time about your absence. I would on a regular basis monitor your Twitter feed to gain some clue. Alas, this revealed nothing. The new book explains everything. It sounds very interesting more so than the previous title suggested at least to me. I wish you all good success.

    I am most glad to hear that you have not gone on wild spending sprees, crashed the stock market, or posed for naked photos while wrapped in an albino boa constrictor. Not that I would be completely disinterested in the third one.

    Regards,

    Jim

    PS If the dress is still in the window buy it and send me the bill. When I get the bill I may regret this but you only live once and lately, I’m getting the feeling Gd is losing patience with me. Besides albino boa constrictor just doesn’t say “Claire”.

    Regards,

    Jim

    God bless James – he comes up with the nicest ways of putting things –

    • #24
  25. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Kozak (View Comment):

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Parenthetically, I owe this, I think, to what’s come to be called Seasonal Affective Disorder, although I don’t know that it’s really a “disorder.”

    @Claire perfect for the writer in winter…..

    SunUp 10,000 LUX LED SAD Desk Lamp

    Worth it, you think? I had a SAD lamp that quickly broke, but it wasn’t quite as costly as this. I wasn’t sure whether I could feel the effects — I liked the bright light in the morning; if felt good, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure it was having much of an effect except perhaps a touch of placebo effect (not that there’s anything wrong with that; if it works, it works.)

    If anyone sees one of these on sale, please do drop me a note: I reckon it’s worth a second experiment

    • #25
  26. Nick Hlavacek Coolidge
    Nick Hlavacek
    @NickH

    I’m new around here, and thus oblivious to any extended absences. The book does sound interesting, and 100,000 words isn’t exceptionally long for books I like. Would you be willing to share some with a first time contributor?

    • #26
  27. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Theodoric of Freiberg (View Comment):
    I like the new title. ?

    I do too, and it seems to have struck a chord with quite a few people, so I reckon it’s a keeper.

    • #27
  28. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    If you can compose entire – flawless – paragraphs in your head, then go the full Decline and Fall. Otherwise, remember that Gibbon is remembered for his prose style and despite his thesis.

    • #28
  29. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    genferei (View Comment):
    If you can compose entire – flawless – paragraphs in your head, then go the full Decline and Fall. Otherwise, remember that Gibbon is remembered for his prose style and despite his thesis.

    There’s a joke that I have remember about history writers with ambitions to write like Gibbon.  Wish I could remember the punchline.

    • #29
  30. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Claire Berlinski, Ed. (View Comment):
    I do too, and it seems to have struck a chord with quite a few people, so I reckon it’s a keeper.

    The notion of unraveling does have the hope in it of reworking the piece with salvaged threads, if not entirely conserving it, says this sometime needle-arts enthusiast.

    • #30
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