Book Progress #10

If I only averaged one new page each day, within a year I would have a whole book. My wife has said it over and over again and still I never feel quite satisfied with what I've written, almost as if I would expect myself to simply unload everything I knew in one sitting and have a book by the time I collapsed at the desk. I wish I had more time to read and write, but various errands, meetings, and other events have kept me so busy lately that it's difficult to find time to devote to my non-blog projects.

May isn't even over yet but I'm already starting to feel the pressure; I don't want to make excuses all summer and only come out of it with a few scraps of paper. So far I've got 44 pages of material that is consistent in style (I'm not counting earlier iterations and notes), but this isn't even a quarter of the length I'm aiming for (I'd like to have things be between 300 and 350 pages. I could surely writer a heavier, denser tome, but that would defeat the purpose of why I'm writing in the first place).

I did manage to add in a few details to the human evolution and horse chapters over the past two days, though, specifically dealing with what Dubois did while he squirreled away his Homo erectus bones and the weird South American "horse mimics" of the Miocene, respectiely. I've ordered a few books on mammalian evolution to help give me some more background on horses (Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America Vol. I, Fossil Horses, and Horns, Tusks, and Flippers) but I also have to finish organizing the 2,000+ papers on my hard drive so that I can more easily find literature relevant to the topic I'm writing about on any given day.

What's the point of continually posting my meager amounts of progress towards my goal? It keeps me honest. If I just kept saying "It's in the works" (as I have in the past) nothing would ever get completed and I've found that posting whatever new material I have generated helps to keep me going. I do appreciate all the kind words and support that many of you have offered in the comments, though. They definitely keep me going back to the keyboard and digging through my library, and I sincerely hope that by the end of the summer I'll have something to show for all this effort.

(New sections are in bold)

Introduction

Huxley's rejoinder to Wilberforce at Oxford - Darrow puts Bryan in the hot seat - Behe's astrological mishap - One long argument - Flickering candles in the dark - Monstrous myths - Evolutionary archetypes -

Horses

Darwin's problems with paleontology - Evolution, sure, but natural selection? - Gaudry and Hipparion - Kowalevsky and Anchitherium - "A gift from the Old world to the New" - Marsh's "toy horse" - Huxley buried under bones - Ladder of horse evolution - Putting the litoptern before the horse

Whales

Koch's Missourium - The king of the seas flees to Europe - Maybe Basilosaurus, maybe not - Huxley's overlooked insight - Fast & furious fossil finds -

Birds and Dinosaurs

Noah's ravens vacation in New England - Hitchcock's Jurassic birds - A little fossil birdie told me about evolution - A misplaced feather - From London to Berlin - The source of Huxley's inspiration - Megalosaurus = an ossified, fossilized, underdeveloped chick - The unimportance of Archaeopteryx - Hypsilophodon as a good transition - Problems with the Pachypoda - How did we get such beautiful fossils? - Ornithosuchus or theropods? - The case of the missing clavicles - 75 years of pseudoscuhian narrative - Barnum Brown's forgotten Daptosaurus - Ostrom's "terrible claw" - "Tetrapteryx" and Microraptor

Human Evolution

Tyson's dissection of a "pigmie" - A chimp's place in the Chain - Where are the "missing links?" - White's 1799 attempt to save the Chain - The Neanderthal that was mistaken for an Irishman - The Neanderthal fossils get named - Dubois goes to Indonesia - Skull of an ape, leg of a human - "Java Man" - The transitional gibbon-man - The discovery of "Peking Man" - Dart's Australopithecus - An irrelevant ape - Le Gros Clark to the rescue - Osborn vs Bryan - Harold Cook's Mystery Tooth - Hesperopithecus = Prosthenops - What makes us human? - Ask a stupid question... - Ape-like humans, not human-like apes - Caught in the Chain

More like this

I spent most of yesterday running between different offices and trying to obtain old academic records so my writing time was cut down dramatically, but I still managed to get some work done in the evening. Most of what I have been doing this week has focused on whales, especially since I've been…
Even though T.H. Huxley proposed that whales had evolved from terrestrial carnivores as late as 1870, the origins of whales was exceedingly problematic until the 1980's. For about a century Basilosaurus, Dorudon, and Protocetus represented the oldest known stage of whale evolution, and the general…
Even though my brain was a bit heat- and math-addled by the time I got home from class last night (I spent all day at a baseball game the organization I work for took us out to and then spent the time between 6 and 8:30 PM in math class) I still managed to add a few more historical tidbits to my…
I was able to get a few more pages out yesterday, although (say it with me now) not as many as I would have liked. I'm continuing to hammer away at the human evolution chapter as I feel that it's the most important, although if I'm not careful it could turn into a book by itself. I may hit a wall…

Brian, let me again offer my artistic services for your tome. I would be honored to help, if you'd have me!

Also, does anybody else get a little window that says "Stack overflow at such-and-such" while the page is loading?

It sounds like you are trying to write and edit your book all at once. You should not be worrying about being "consistent in style" on your first draft. Just get it all out there on the page. The second and third drafts are for cleaning things up and consistency and so forth. I know you don't know me from a whole in the wall, but I'm working on my 7th book, and before that I wrote 20 or 30 computer manuals, so I know a little bit about what it takes to finish a big writing project.

If you can block out 1-2 hours a day to work on your book, that could be enough to get a TON of work done, and it will leave you time for all those other things that keep getting in your way. Don't try to work all day on your book if you know you can't. It will just make you feel guilty. (That is enough for me, but all writers are different, so I can't say if it's enough for you.)

Do you already have a contract? That would help you stay honest too. Most nonfiction books are sold on proposal, not on the final manuscript.

Writer; But I do know you from a hole in the wall. (Thanks for all the links here, btw. Skepchick is now on the blogroll; sorry for not doing it sooner.)I didn't know you had written so much! Congratulations on having so much published, and I do appreciate the advice.

What I mean by "consistent in style" is that I've made a few attempts at writing this book before and the present iteration is much more cohesive than my earlier efforts. Before I just wrote about what I thought was important but I didn't have a goal or purpose that really tied things together. Now I do and therefore what I've been writing (even if it is rough) fit together more clearly than before.

As for writing time, it varies day by day. I just don't want to make excuses or find distractions. If I'm really "on" I can write all day while other days I can only put in an hour or so. My schedule has been pretty hectic lately, too, although I'm hoping to develop more of a pattern. I do want to at least write something every day, though, if for no other reason to keep me going.

I do not, as yet, have a contract. I was going to finish about 3-4 chapters (or at least get them cleaned up to a reasonable degree) and then try to find a good agent who can work on getting a contract as I work on the rest of it. I'm not going to finish it and then shop it around, but I want to make sure that I have "the goods" to get me a contract before I try to find an agent.

Brian, let me STRONGLY reaffirm what writerdd said: writing and editing are two different tasks, and the super-strong temptation to do them both at once is one of the very worst inhibitors of writing effectively. You will get twice as much done if you spend a day writing in a stream and the next day editing it, as you will if you spend both days in write-and-edit mode.

Make a big to-do list of all the things you need to do to feel like the book is written. Not an outline, but a list of tasks for you to perform. E.g., things like "write a description of the Beagle" to "create a cladogram of hominids" to "check spelling" to "compile bibliography." Make the list as detailed as possible, breaking each task down into manageable pieces.

Prioritize the list according to how hard or easy each task is going to be, or whether it depends on doing something else first.

Now, just start working your way through the list, picking off the "low-hanging fruit" (as we say in the cube farm). You'll be working nonlinearly -- rather than trying to write a chapter, you'll be writing a paragraph here, a paragraph there, dropping a figure in the middle of an otherwise blank page, etc., which may seem awkward if you're not used to working that way. But you can get all the easy writing out of the way very quickly and feel really productive.

When you've finished everything on your list, that's the first draft. Think of it like a sculptor's armature -- rather than staring at a blank screen, you've got some material to work with. Now is when you start revising, adding and trimming, cleaning up the language the style.

Sounds like you have a great plan. If you want to discuss going through the process of finding an agent, etc. feel free to email me (you can access our email addresses in the comments, right?). Just don't get bogged down in the editing as you write. That's the worst kind of quicksand to get sucked into. :-)