Entry 92: The End of the 93,000-Word Road
Editor’s Note: This is the 92nd 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?
First draft complete! I’ll refrain from unfurling a “Mission Accomplished” banner. I still need to re-write the intro chapter, and have smaller revisions throughout.
I also have a few pages’ worth of holes involving easy descriptive content that I left blank for the sake of keeping up my writing momentum. When I’m in the writing groove I’ll often try to leave open spots for the low-hanging fruit writing and focus on making progress on the harder content. So now there are lots of placeholders for sentences and occasional paragraphs where it’s obvious what I need to put there but I just haven’t gotten around to it.
It’s bittersweet, but now that I have a full draft in hand, I intend for this to be my final Nuke Your Darlings entry. As of now I have 93,000 words, which is more than the limit I agreed to in the publishing contract. I just need to pare it down as I revise. I skimmed through most of the chapters today and really like what I’ve produced. I’m kind of amazed that I did this. Hopefully readers will enjoy the final product!
Keeping this diary has been more worthwhile than I ever imagined. There were often days when I really didn’t have time to write but I knew when evening time came I’d have to explain myself to all of you. Writing the Nuke Your Darlings series proved a good way of keeping a fire lit under me to write, write, write. Even when I wasn’t sure what I was trying to say and I could carve out more than an hour, I had to write anyway.
These daily entries have also helped me reflect on how I write. I have a much more deliberate sense of my techniques for coping with the difficulties of long-form writing than I did before. Pausing each night to think through and write about what I was doing was crucial. Writing building blocks, stacking ammo, low-hanging fruit, extreme discipline (a-la West Wing), self-revising as I write, one fight (big writing project) at a time—all are techniques I’ve used to get by. Knowing that I have them has made me more apt to consciously use them, which has boosted my writing confidence somewhat.
The biggest surprise benefit of this diary is how it’s seemingly affected others. I have no real sense of how large or small the audience of readers is, but I know when people send me messages. Literally scores of emails, DMs, and the like from readers telling me the blog has helped them in everything from entering a PhD program and thinking through foreign policy career options to improving their own writing techniques. The coolest feedback I’ve gotten—from maybe a dozen people—is that they too have tried to make a habit of keeping a daily writing diary. We all go through similar challenges as writers, and this diary has ended up being a two-way street for moral support and “stick-to-it-iveness.”
In my first entry back in 2017, I made a few promises to the readers. How’d I do?
I promised to update the diary every weekday but not to expect Shakespeare. I very nearly did this. I missed two days when I was traveling for a conference, and I missed one day a week or two ago just because I was swamped, but otherwise I delivered the goods—92 times. Also as promised, I didn’t deliver Shakespeare.
I also promised to be honest and not self-conscious. I mostly succeeded. I occasionally got preachy about North Korea, but that’s only because the stakes are flippin’ nuclear war. I was pretty damn candid and free-flowing with my entries.
Finally, I promised that my first entry would be the longest. I recall only one entry that was longer than that first one, which was full op-ed length. Honestly, I expected to only write a few sentences in the journal each night, but it felt good writing at the end of each day, so I did it until I felt like I’d done enough. I think I averaged more than 500 words per entry, which is a lot of writing.
This was an exhausting process, and it required a higher than usual amount of daily discipline from me. My wife had to carry an unusually heavy burden to help me out, though my three-year old didn’t seem to notice or care that I was writing a book. I don’t think I could ever do a book in six months again. But I’m really glad I did it. I hope you’re glad to have followed along on the journey.
Stay tuned on twitter for updates about the book hitting store shelves and a book tour near you!
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.