The Value of a Writing Pipeline
Dr. Thomas S. Kidd, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, reflects in this post on how the use of a writing pipeline can increase one’s productivity. Dr. Kidd is a prolific author, having composed such works as American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths and George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father with Yale University Press and American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism with Princeton University Press. He frequently contributes to national media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal.
The writing and publishing process has lots of starts and stops. Say your first draft of your revised dissertation/book is done. Or maybe just your latest chapter. You submit the draft, and then you wait for feedback from readers, editors, or an advisor. Often you wait for weeks, or even months. What do you do during that time?
One of the keys to long-term productivity in writing is “pipelining” projects. That is, when you’re waiting for the next step on a completed manuscript, you should have an early-stage project you’re working on. This can be difficult when you’re suddenly required to drop everything and go back to the other project, giving you a bit of intellectual whiplash. But having at least two projects at different stages means that you’ll know intuitively how to fill the down time when you’re waiting on a response from a professor, editor, or commissioned reviewer. (I am definitely aware that here I am envisioning a work schedule, like mine at Baylor, that allows for – and even requires – ongoing writing.)
Maybe for you this is as simple as plowing ahead with your next dissertation chapter. Or maybe working on an article you’ve had on the back burner. One of my latest experiences in the writing pipeline involved the later stages of writing my religious biography of Benjamin Franklin. This book will be out with Yale University Press in May 2017. But in early 2016, I also signed with B&H Academic to write an American history textbook.
I delivered the Franklin manuscript to Yale in April 2016. Then I needed to wait to get a reader’s report back from them. It arrived at the beginning of July 2016. I had about two and a half months in between where I basically had nothing to do on the Franklin book, but to wait.
If I had nothing definite to work on book-wise, I could easily have found things to occupy time – blogging, prep for a new legal history course I was teaching at Baylor in the fall, etc. And I certainly did spend some time on those matters.
But I always want to be making progress on long-term projects, too. That requires consistent writing. I don’t have exact totals, but I am confident that I averaged at least 1000 words a day on the days I was working on the textbook. Let’s assume that was eight weeks, five days a week. That comes out to 40,000 words. That seems about right, since I finished five chapters on the textbook, at about 8000 words each.
Writing a textbook is pretty easy, as writing goes. Still, as a writer, grad student, or professor we often find ANYTHING else to work on besides actually writing, especially in those gap times when you’re waiting for someone else to do something. It is really helpful to me when I don’t have to wonder what else I should work on!
When the reader’s report came back in, I needed to shift gears and go back to the Franklin book for final revisions. It took a day or two to get back into the flow. And it took me another day or two to get back into the flow of the B&H textbook, once I was done with that latest phase of the Franklin book. But that is ok. It is far better than having just one project going at a time.