book revision

Book Revisions: What's Working and What's Not

EditIt has been a month since I “jumped” into my book revisions with 3 experiments: 1. Early Morning Reading 2. Active Note Taking 3. Increased Accountability

It is time for a progress report of what is working and what is not.


Starting Point

I began my revisions with Chapter 1.

Chapter 1 will discuss the establishment of Beverwijck (Dutch Albany) and New Netherland. It will cover the period from 1614-1664.

Unlike my other chapters, Chapter 1 is not a revision. It will be 95% new work.

Progress is slow.

I forgot how slow it can be to read, skim, and locate books and articles.

My outline for Chapter 1 consists of 5 sections and 26 subsections.


What’s Working?

BooksEarly Morning Reading/Dedicated Reading Time

I try to read a chapter or more every morning.

Sometimes my schedule requires me to move my reading time to later in the day.

Early morning reading/dedicated reading time works.

This practice has helped me read at least 5 chapters a week, which is often a book or most of a book.

I have found this practice to be most helpful during my busiest weeks.

Even when I cannot spare a full day to read and write, dedicated reading time allows me to make progress at a pace of at least 5 chapters per week.


Active Note Taking

Active note taking is time consuming.

After I read, I enter any notes or underlined passages into my DEVONthink database.

After I enter each note, I summarize it into my own words and then place that summary into the appropriate subsection(s) of my Scrivener outline.

Each week I spend hours taking these "active notes."

Although this practice feels like a time suck, I believe it will help me write each section/subsection faster because I will be able to print out my notes and synthesize them into a narrative.



Each Wednesday I write an e-mail to Michelle Seaton, my writing coach and editor, to let her know what I have accomplished.

I find this practice worthwhile for 3 reasons.

1.  The e-mails require reflection.

I must think about what work I have accomplished each week and list each book or article I have read.

Reflection helps me see that I am making progress even when I do not feel like I have made any.


2. The e-mails provide motivation.

Each week I know I am accountable.

I know I have to write an e-mail to Michelle and explain what I have done.

I do not want to write an e-mail that lists only 1 or 2 accomplishments; I want to fill the e-mail with as much progress as possible.

Each week I feel motivated to work on my book in part because my e-mails hold me accountable.


3. My writing coach responds with validation.

Michelle has been through the book writing and revision process before. I have not.

Each week, Michelle tells me what I have done well, what I might tweak, and reminds me that I am working hard and making progress.

This validation feels good and motivates me to try and do better the next week.


typewriterBonus Tip: Dedicated Writing Time

Over the last month, I have found another tactic that has helped me make progress: Dedicated Writing Time.

I try to dedicate 8-12 hours a week to book research and writing. I spread these hours over 2 days, usually Tuesdays and Fridays.

Each dedicated writing day receives a 4-6 hour block.

Right now, I am using these 8-12 hours to read, take notes, and think about my revisions.

I find these large time blocks helpful as they allow me to focus solely on my book.

The ability to dedicate this much time is a luxury that many historians do not have, but if you can set aside even just 3-4 hours a week you will make progress on your dissertation or book.

Try to schedule the hours you can spare consecutively. I think you will find the type of deep focus that comes with 2-4 hour time blocks helpful.

Finally, I have made my dedicated writing time inviolable.

I do not allow myself to work on freelance articles or blog posts or run errands, attend appointments, or go out to lunch during my “Book Time.”


genius at work title written with chalk on blackboardConclusions

All of my revisions tactics are working for me.

I just wish I could make faster progress.

I know exactly how I want to write this chapter and I am anxious to accomplish the work.

I just haven’t found a quick way to acquire all of the knowledge I need to write the chapter.

With that said, I know I am a "productive procrastinator." I spent an extra 12 months in the archives before I wrote my dissertation. (I found lots of helpful information, but I probably could have written the dissertation without it.)

To help ensure that I am not “productively procrastinating,” I plan to spend 1 more week acquiring the information I think I need to write the first 2-4 subsections of Chapter 1 and then I am going to take a break from my books and write the subsections as best I can.

I will report on whether that tactic works next month.


Share-Your-StoryShare Your Story

What is your writing and revision process like?

Do you have any tips, tricks, or writing rituals that work for you?

Please share! I could use all the help I can get.