What’s taking so long?
In this post you will learn about the problems I have encountered with Chapter 1 and what I have done to fix those problems.
Problem #1: Ambitious Outline
Chapter 1 is a brand new chapter. It needs to tell the story of how Beverwyck and its community developed into a geographic and cultural gateway to North America.
Unfortunately, I began my work in late February/early March with an outline that had me attempting to research and tell the WHOLE story of Beverwyck in one chapter, which can’t be done.
On some level I knew this couldn’t be done as it took me until early June to start writing the chapter. Even then, I only started because my writing buddy Liana Silva-Ford told me that I had to start writing.
I wrote at least 500 words a day throughout June and produced a 43-page, unfinished draft. It took me 43 pages to realize that my plans were too ambitious.
Problem #2: Project Fatigue
My dissertation did not cover the history of New Netherland in any meaningful way. It focused on the legacy of the Dutch in Albany, New York between 1750 and 1830. Likewise, the majority of my book will also focus on the period between 1750-1830.
With that said, my book needs to strengthen my claims about why a majority of Albany's Dutch-descended community embraced the American Revolution and participated in the formation of New York State and the United States. To accomplish this, I must show how and why Albany appeared to be “Dutch” as late as 1750.
I love my topic, but I have been working on it for over 10 years!
My project fatigue caused me to lose focus. Without consciously realizing it, my brain latched on to Chapter 1 as an opportunity to study something new: New Netherland.
Problem #3: Information Overload
My ambitious outline combined with my excitement to learn about something new led me to read too much about New Netherland.
For three months, my brain feasted on books about the Haudenosaunee, Mahican, and Munsee peoples. It enjoyed multiple, general tomes about the colony and it indulged in reading books and articles about Dutch foodways, religion, women, slaves, poor relief, wampum, and the use of kettles in the fur trade.
I would have continued my intellectual feast into June, but Liana intervened and told me to start writing.
The realization that I had gathered way too much information did not occur to me until I reached page 43 of my draft. At that point I admitted that I had a problem. I stepped away from my computer and took an afternoon to reassess what I needed to accomplish in Chapter 1.
Fix #1: Self-Evaluation
I stepped away from my draft as soon as I realized that I was trying to tell the whole story of Beverwyck in one chapter.
I spent 2-3 hours thinking through why my chapter was too long, why I hadn’t finished my draft, and how I had become so lost.
I evaluated my situation with free writing as I think better when I write.
Once I realized where I had gone wrong, and what I had done right, I created a more focused outline.
Fix #2: Focused Outline
I used the invaluable advice that Liana gave me to create a more focused outline: Write down the 1-3 points you must get across in your paper and write to those points.
Chapter 1 needs to show my readers:
1. How Beverwyck developed into and functioned as a physical and cultural gateway. 2. How Beverwyck formed as an adaptable community and what an adaptable community looks like. 3. How Beverwyck formed as an autonomous, self-governing community and what that autonomy and self-governance looked like.
Underneath these points, I listed ideas and examples that will help me make and demonstrate them.
Although a lot went wrong with my approach to Chapter 1, I found 2 tactics that really worked for me.
1. Writing at least 500 words a day
Sometimes writing 500 words seemed like an arduous task, other days I blew passed this goal. For the most part, 500 words allowed me to write a minimum of 1.5-2pages per day, meaningful and tangible progress, while still allowing me time to pursue my other projects.
2. Ignoring my internal editor
I tend to edit as I write; this is not a good tactic. Sometimes I lose a brilliant thought because I edit it before I type it into my document.
I worked hard to ignore my internal editor as I wrote my first draft of Chapter 1. Although it proved difficult to ignore her, my efforts ultimately helped me get my thoughts on the page, good thoughts that I will be able to edit for clarity later.
A lot went wrong with my initial approach to Chapter 1. I lost a lot of time, but I have gained several valuable lessons that I will carry forward.
I also hope that by writing about what I did wrong, I will help you avoid similar mistakes with your own work.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from your approaches to research and writing?