Entry 73: Conference Prep

March 26, 2018

Editor’s Note: This is the 73rd 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?

Today was the beginning of conference preparation hell.  I’m presenting on a panel in two days and have done nothing to get ready for it.  This happens all the time, and I know a lot of people do the same thing.  Pulling together remarks for public events isn’t particularly difficult, but it’s time-consuming, and something that I seem to always put off until the last minute.

The way most scholars and think tank types—especially think tank types—get around the time-consuming nature of prepping for conference-speaking is by using the same talking points over and over.  I don’t like to do that.  I’ve done it, but I hate it.  It’s one of many signs that I probably could never be a politician—I can only repeat myself so many times before what I’m saying starts to feel inauthentic or disconnected from my audience.

So I take the panel topic or speaking request seriously and try to tailor what I’m saying to the event.  How novel.  It takes time to prep, and—like now—it jams me up crashing on my remarks just in time to given them.  But that’s what it takes to say something that doesn’t seem warmed over.  Too many foreign policy speakers come across like day-old pizza.

This conference asked me to come in and give some quickie remarks that are effectively a preview of this book.  Good marketing opportunity, and it’s stuff I can pull together quickly, but I have to figure out what to share and how to relate it to the broader panel I’m on.

I wrote around 900 words over the weekend.  The main issue for several weeks now has simply been time.  I cram as much writing as I can into discrete windows of time, and then spend the rest of my day doing stuff that’s entirely unrelated.

Man, do I long for January, when I had entire days of blank space to write this.  Somehow, I’m writing more productively now than I was then.  Maybe it’s because I’m writing about the nightmare as I bear witness to it.


Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks and an associate editor of the Texas National Security Review. He is also a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington, and the Defence & Strategy Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies.