Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Steinbeck Experiment

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!

Yesterday, one of the Christmas gifts my wife opened (and in a few cases, treasure-hunted for) from me was a pack of sketchbooks, one of which was designated for me: on the insides of an unfolding paper box placed under the tree, I explained that I'm going to be keeping a writing journal this year, addressed to Karen.  She's welcome to read from it as she likes during the year, but next Christmas I will present it to her as a (hopefully) completed gift, showing each day how I have practiced this thing that's supposed to be my craft.  She can read intensively, skim, laugh or roll her eyes as she likes -- and while she can ask how my work is going from day to day, the journal frees her from any obligation to do so in much detail, even as it provides me with day-to-day accountability for Getting Work Done.

But Matt, wherever did you get this idea of such surpassing brilliance?  From John Steinbeck, of course.  As he was writing East of Eden in 1951, he kept an epistolary journal of sorts, addressed to a friend and editor.  When one reads it today, it comes across as a proto-blog, as Steinbeck tracks his progress, wrestles with problems of pacing, plotting, and procrastination, waxes on (and on) about his obsessions with finding exactly the right pencil, and occasionally reflects on what's happening in his family life and the world around him.

In my case, the journal idea remains the same, but it's addressed to Karen.  She's not always my primary audience, but as I explained in the first post in this blog, her influence makes me a better writer, not just a better person and a stronger follower of Jesus.

It'll be interesting to see how this gift develops.  I'll try to report in on that occasionally here -- without letting such posts, or the journaling itself, become procrastination.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Of Book Proposals and Invitations

Over the past few weeks, I've been hoping, praying and working toward the goal of having at least one book contract underway in the new year.  Among the various motives -- e.g., knowing that I need external deadlines to keep myself motivated when working, and wanting to be invited to an authors' dinner or two at my next major conference -- let's focus for now on that of professional, vocational development: I want to produce a book to share my thoughts, yes, but also to demonstrate that I can hack it at a whole 'nother level above that of articles and essays.

To wit, I'd been working on a book proposal, on a topic that I'd rather not talk about here just yet.  One major publisher's guide for book proposals suggests the submission of two chapters of the prospective volume, one introductory, the other of more substance, from later in the book.  It was a wonderful surprise when I was able to hammer out a more-or-less-finished form of the introduction in something less than four hours; my usual writing rate is a good bit slower than that.  So now I need to think about which of the later chapters to try next -- once I clear out some current and overdue projects between now and the beginning of 2013.

The big news is that this cleaning-house stage isn't just for that book proposal, but because I may very well be revising my dissertation for publication very soon.  Last Friday, a senior colleague whom I met and evidently impressed at a conference last spring invited me to submit my dissertation for publication in the series he edits, Emory Studies in Early Christianity.  No contracts signed yet, but I have his and his co-editor's blessing to say that I have been so invited and that things "look promising"; over Christmas break, they'll be looking over the diss. as it stood when revised and bound in May of last year, and they'll let me know what revisions they expect early in the new year.  

So hooray!  It's encouraging when someone takes this strong an interest in my work.  In a variation on a habit we've seen modeled by friends, Karen and I keep a collection of glass beads on one of our bookshelves, beads that we label with reminders of recent gifts of God's grace for which to be thankful.  Suffice it to say that the Emory invitation warrants its own newly labelled bead.  Provided that the publication goes forward, I'm sure there'll be times next year when I am less than thankful for the work entailed -- but this is something that I want and need and am called to do.  More than that: it's an answer to prayer, albeit one that will require much more prayer down the road...!