So Tuesday I finished a manuscript, and now for the first time in seven years I’m not playing catch-up with my writing.

37662280jpg The manuscript was the last workbook in an elementary writing series for Peace Hill Press, the small press I own. (We are, without question, the most famous publisher in Charles City, Virginia.)

I have a real passion for teaching writing, particularly to the kind of kid who weeps hysterically when you give him a pencil. It comes from years and years of teaching writing to college freshmen who never learned the basics, and thinking to myself the whole time: What should you have learned before you walked into this classroom?

This last book in the Writing With Ease series is scheduled for publication in January 2010, which means that the manuscript was supposed to be finished in mid-June. But, naturally, I’ve been running behind. So this week, my husband took the kids off to visit cousins and I stayed home to fulfill a speaking engagement, feed the horses/chickens/cats/dogs/rabbits/goldfish, and work on the final draft of the book. I worked nonstop until yesterday and…finished it.

For at least the last seven years, I’ve constantly been working on books which are already in the system–already listed for sale in our catalog or Norton’s catalog, which means already available for pre-orders on Amazon, B&N, Books-a-Million, you name it. This is not quite the same as working on a deadline. Deadlines are necessary, for me anyway, because if I don’t set a target date for finishing a manuscript I’ll just keep researching and writing and researching and writing and editing and tinkering and rearranging. But deadlines, as long as you have a sympathetic editor, are semi-flexible. If the book goes in an unexpected direction, or you end up with unanticipated difficulties, a deadline can be pushed.

Once a book is in the system, though, you’d better get it finished on time. Otherwise there are cancelled orders, indignant readers, annoyed bookstore owners, and general unhappiness.

When the book goes into the system is actually under my control. My PHP books don’t go into the Peace Hill Press catalog unless I put them there myself. And my editor at Norton always says to me, a year before my next deadline, “So, is the book on time?” And I give him an estimate as to when the manuscript will be ready.

I am always wrong. You’d think that after more than a decade of doing this for a living, I’d have a better sense of how long it’ll take me to finish a project. Apparently not.

So why do I keep saying, happily, “Sure, let’s put the book in the catalog, I’m sure I’ll be done”? Because if I were to wait until the manuscript were actually finished before giving the OK to list it, publication is delayed by an additional year or more. And the unhappy reality of publishing/writing for a living is that new books have to keep on coming out.

But I made a resolution back in December, when I sent the manuscript for the History of the Medieval World in. The resolution: as soon as I finished the two remaining books in the writing series, both of which were already in the system, I would never again say blithely, “Of course I’ll have it done in time! Put it in the catalog!” Not unless I have a finished manuscript in hand.

Why? Because once there’s that inflexible date at the end of the creative process, writing changes character. With each page, I no longer think: Hey, that was a pretty good page. Instead I think: That took too long. Must be more productive. It’s wearing and exhausting and joy-sucking.

So here I am. Without any unfinished books in the system anywhere. I’ve got new projects I’m looking forward to starting on–the next book in the Norton series, above all. But that familiar panicked drumbeat echoing around in the back chambers of my brain? Silenced for the first time in seven years.

Listening to the silence.

Showing 19 comments
  • Anwen

    Oooh nice!

  • WTMCassandra

    Awesome! Enjoy the silence.

  • Krista

    Oooh, congratulations!

    That over-quiet silence you are hearing is the adrenaline and guilt slowly leaving your system. I remember it from the first day I came home from my first job out of university. After five years (more if you count high school) of constantly having something that I should have been doing, it was astonishing to be able to sit and do nothing without feeling guilty about the ten things I was ignoring.


  • Colleen in NS

    You know, I think you are one smart chick. I really admire that resolution, and the fact that you said one time that you run PHP debt-free. I think your writing and business endeavors are going to reward you and your family!

    Enjoy getting into the real creative process when you get going again!

  • cathmom

    And you’d think that after 20 years of being a mom and 12 years of homeschooling, I would have a better idea of what I can and can’t do. But I am constantly over-estimating as well! Hope springs eternal, I guess.


  • Christina

    Yes! Congratulations.
    You are inspiring.
    And in this case, may the familiar fade into a distant memory until it is altogether unknown.

  • melissa in Australia

    I will look forward to using the book with my writing phobic children. :0)

  • LanaTron

    Can I just say that I love reading your blog?

    And I love Writing With Ease, too!

    Congratulations on finishing!

  • K-Sue


  • SFKC

    Hey there,

    I saw a Story of the World cover image tonight during the NewsHour’s piece on “paperless prose”. Brief, but national!

    Farewell panicked drumbeats — congratulations!


  • Yabusame

    Congratulations, but, ahem, with The History of the Medieval World released next year, when do we expect the next two volumes (History of the Early Modern World & History of the Modern World)?

    You can’t just put that pen down and walk away… you’ve got a dedicated history reader here… 😉

  • Susan

    Oh, don’t worry, no walking away here! In fact, I’ve already been working on the third book. But this time I’m not making any promises ahead of time about when I’ll be finished. With this last book, I felt like I was always behind and running to catch up. I’m not sure that I wrote any faster or slower than if that pressure hadn’t been there–I just know that it made the writing NO FUN AT ALL.

    So as to when they might be ready…can I keep you posted? 🙂

  • Zuca


    If you have the time to comment, I’m extremely interested in what you mentioned about teaching writing basics to college students. You obviously don’t have the time to go through a full writing program with them, so how do you condense and utilize your ideas on writing to get them up to speed and still teach the class they’re getting a grade for?

    Enjoy your down time =)

  • Laurie

    Congratulations! And now maybe you’ll have time to take some puppy pictures…pretty please? I’d love to see your furry footwarmers.

  • Karen

    Congratulations! We are putting together next year’s curriculum, and my husband noted that it’s mostly made up of Peace Hill Press curricula, and I said, “That’s because it works.” My son loves First Language Lessons and ever since we started on Story of the World, he has declared history his ‘favorite subject in the whole world.”

  • Colleen in NS

    (notice I’m not asking “when will it be done” – but nervously asking…) Will you be working concurrently on the rest of your writing series, too, along with the history series? Or does that get put off until the history is done? 🙂

  • TM

    I’m celebrating with you by lifting up my glass of Diet Coke & smiling. Mother of JM

  • Karin

    I ought to be happy for you, since we really like your history books and your FLL book, not to mention WTM. However, I find myself wishing you would have written one for high school students who resist expository writing. Particuarly since my rising highschooler only likes history when you write it. Any chance you’ll be doing one of those?

  • Susan

    I’m planning on taking the writing series up through high school…but unfortunately don’t have a target date for you. 🙁

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