Entry 83: On Taking Time to Reflect

Editor’s Note: This is the 83rd 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 managed to write 1,040 words today, which is pretty good.  I’m at the point in the manuscript where I’m starting to write about how the nuclear crisis ended, which spans from Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech to, well, now.

Unless my editor calls an audible or a war breaks out—either of which is possible—the current plan is to end the book with the Kim-Moon summit.  If a Trump-Kim summit actually happens in June, there would be enough time to fold in a discussion on that at the end.

I went to a War on the Rocks happy hour last week while conferencing in San Francisco.  In the span of an hour I must’ve had half a dozen people ask how I could do Nuke Your Darlings every night while writing the book.  Two people straight-up castigated me (in a friendly way) for diverting some of my writing time each day to blogging when I should be working on the book.

I get where they’re coming from, but that’s not how book-writing works—at least not for me.  I discussed this a bit in the early days of Nuke Your Darlings.  This blogging process functions for me as catharsis, daily writing accountability, and forced reflection on how I write.

It’s definitely helped me cope with the anxieties and frustrations of watching a gratuitous nuclear crisis, worrying what will happen next.  Knowing that I have to account for the words I write each day forces me to spend time writing the book even on days when I feel way too harried to write—which is quite often.  And it’s helped me generate some personal best practices for writing that extend beyond this project.  I’m more conscientious about my writing habits.

I guess the point is that the time I spend on Nuke Your Darlings—between 10 and 30 minutes per night—is not time that I would necessarily be working on the book manuscript, and even if it were, it’s worth the opportunity cost.


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.