Editor’s Note: This is the 26th installment in Van Jackson’s daily writing journal, “Nuke Your Darlings,” which tracks his six-month battle to write a new book on North Korea. Will he meet his deadline?
I wrote around 900 words today. Feeling good about that. I also managed to write about half of my contribution for a forthcoming Texas National Security Review policy roundtable on North Korea.
Very few people are aware of it prior to this post, but before Cambridge contacted me to do this current book, I had written about 35,000 words toward an entirely different book on American internationalism in the age of Trump. The words needed a lot of massaging, and I was torn about whether I should write it for an academic or trade (commercial) publisher, but I had been working on it a little bit each day since last year’s presidential inauguration.
The argument I was making seemed important and novel. I was stacking ammo every day simply by reading the latest news headlines. And on some level, I found it cathartic. It helped me cope with the tumult of world events in the Trump presidency. I was passionate about the American internationalism book. I still am. When I read through the news each day, I still have two filters on for stacking ammo — the Korea filter, and the U.S. foreign policy filter.
There’s obviously a good bit of overlap in these two, but they’re happening on different time horizons and at different levels of abstraction. The Korea crisis is very much in the present and existential, while the disruptions to U.S. foreign policy are relative and the consequences can only really be observed over time.
Anyway, time management is starting to become an issue. I continued chipping away at the American internationalism book while I wrote the nuclear standoff book proposal for Cambridge. I even kept working on the internationalism book while I was writing my first chapter and a half of the current book.
But I’ve reached a point where I have to put on hold — not kill (or nuke) — that darling book project on internationalism. I’ll still stack ammo for it, but as of now I’m barely able to get the requisite words done for this project, and I’m feeling in real time the schizophrenic pain of splitting your focus across two major obsessions simultaneously. Yes, book projects are obsessions. They have to be. I see now why Bob Kaplan counseled against doing two books at once.
I really hope that the American internationalism book will be waiting for me to resume when I’m finished with the nuclear standoff book. But for the sake of meeting my deadline, it’s time to enact the fifth rule of Fight Club — one fight at a time, fellas.
Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks.