Almost a year ago, I finished the manuscript of The History of the Medieval World and sent it off to Norton. And only seven months late.

Or maybe more, I kind of lost track. But I did overnight the manuscript, so as not to add three more days to the overdue-ness.

Anyway, although the book isn’t due out until February, I’ve been working on the sequel for eight months: trying to figure out, for the third time, how to approach a ridiculously huge project like this in a semi-efficient manner. Re-inventing the process from the ground up, each time: you’d think that earlier projects would provide me with a plan, but no. Each project seems to have its own internal logic. The only thing earlier projects provide me with is the confidence that I will be able to figure out what that logic is, one more time.

When I wrote The History of the Ancient World, my original draft was 800,000 words long. For those of you who might still be contemplating reading the book, don’t panic: I cut it down to 250,000 words. Which meant I threw away a lot of words. I was determined not to do this again for The History of the Medieval World, but I did. Seems that I can’t find the narrative thread unless I over-write and then cut.

I really mean it this time. I can’t possible use this same plan again.

The primary problem is that my narrative line has become much more complex in this third book. In the first book, I was dealing with a limited number of civilizations. In the second, a whole host of new nations appear, but their history is still pretty rudimentary. But in this third book, there are HUNDREDS of countries which, by the book’s end (somewhere around 1700–more on this later) each have their own national history and complicated internal workings. If I write out each history and then start looking for narrative lines, I won’t have 800,000 words. I’ll have two million. (And it’ll be 2015.)

For the last month and half I’ve been trying to work out a basic chronology of Indian history so that I can plan out my chapters. I started with a list of four or five central and southern Indian empires to research, plus the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. But each one of those empires had at least one pivotal war/treaty/crisis that was inextricably entwined with another kingdom or state or tribe. Each time I reached one of those points, I added the other kingdome/state/tribe to my list.

As of today, here’s what it looks like.

Bahmani Sultanate
Ahom kingdom
Sri Lanka
Sultanate of Malacca

And that’s just one subcontinent. Maybe I’m looking at three million words.

Stay tuned as I wrestle with the internal logic of THIS project. And if necessary, you can remind me that I will eventually figure it out.

Before 2015, that is.

Showing 7 comments
  • Christine

    This sounds worse than the time the dogs I was watching while their mistress was on vacation grabbed my knitting bag and dragged it around the kitchen table 25 times, unraveling all 15 balls of yarn in use for my argile sweater while I was out grocery shopping.

    But I’m sure you will untangle the civilizations in time for my kids to read your books for homeschool highschool.

  • Christina

    All I can say is,”Oh my goodness.”
    I can hardly figure out what to make for dinner, much less all the things you think about. I can’t decide if I’m depressed by it or inspired. 🙂 You are amazing.

  • Melissa

    I know the books are tittled History of the Whole World, but do you really have to have the whole world? you can’t possibly have every detail/ crises/war of every country.

  • Christine


    For some reason art (paintings) just struck me. Artists who are known for certain techniques. Broad strokes. Impressionism. (In this particular instance I would defer from checking out Pointalism.)

    A trip to an art museum seems in order for this book. . .and maybe it will be there that you can find your order.

  • Ashley

    Wow! Good luck, this project is going to be wonderful and awful at the same time! It may need to be split into two or more books rather than putting it all into one volume. Either way I’m sure you’ll find out how you want to best tackle it, good luck!

  • Colleen in NS

    You will get it figured out, and it will be worth it in the end. I just think it must be so gratifying to look at your finished products, knowing all the hard work and creativity that went into them, and say, “*I* did that and people actually like it!!”

  • Jeri

    Write a main book with little sub books, (or sub topics)so if someone wants to dig deeper they have that option, and if someone just wants ,like the writer before said)”broad strokes”, that works as well.

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