So while wandering around this morning before the children got up, drinking coffee and staring into the corn,

I came to a decision. I need a post-dissertation pre-history-manuscript deadline BREAK.

Ooh, let me tell you all the things I want to do instead of write history every day. I want to read a lot of fiction (not much of that over the past year), write some good fiction (haven’t done that for four years), write some bad poetry (twelve years), sleep until 7 AM occasionally, go for nice long runs, make cookies with the kids, keep a diary, memorize John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, practice my Korean (Rosetta Stone–lots of fun), work on the farm with my dad…okay, I know there was some other stuff in there.

(Yes, I know that’s not sounding like too much of a break.)

The point is that I’m not getting much of anywhere, post-dissertation, so I need to take some time off from writing serious nonfiction. As my wise friend remarked the other day while we stuffed ourselves with Mexican food, the problem with not taking a break when you need one is that you end up sort of taking a break anyway (you stall when you’re supposed to be working) but you don’t get the benefit of a real vacation.

I had planned to take a break when the medieval history MS was done. This, I think, would be a tactical error. I need the break now, not in June 2008. (Then I could stop WHINING so much.)

I mentioned this at the Norton booth at ALA last week, sort of obliquely. Can’t say it got a rousing reception. (“You could have a GREAT break once the manuscript is handed in!”) True, but pointless if I can’t get the thing done. Nope, I need to recharge FIRST. Then I can write some absolutely thrilling stuff about Frankish kings.

So here’s the July Project. I’m going to take the rest of July to finish off the dissertation revisions, and send the result off to the Anonymous Prestigious University Press that might publish it if the outside reader reports are positive. I can do this. It’s pretty close to the end, anyway. I’ve made a lovely chart of the manuscript flow,

I’ve moved all my dissertation stuff to the non-history side of my table, the one with the penitential chair on it,

and I’ve been through all my research and organized it into the relevant piles.

I’m two-thirds of the way through the revisions and see the end in sight.

Then I’m going to wrap up some research on the medieval history and get it to the point where I can re-open the manuscript and plunge straight back in.

Then I’m going to take August and September AWAY FROM MY BREAD AND BUTTER WORK.

(Waiting for the universe to shiver and fall.)

So I’ve got four weeks to plan my break. What would YOU read? What would YOU do? How would you recharge? Give me some suggestions. Can’t wait to see them.

(On second glance at this entry…it kind of looks like something other than a good idea might come out of that corn, doesn’t it?)

Showing 19 comments
  • Kimber

    I’ve been pretty busy myself lately and I’ve decided that come spring of 2008, I, too, am taking a break. During that time I plan to try and recapture that feeling of getting lost in a book. The kind of summer days I had when my mother and grandmother did all of the cooking and the cleaning, and I did nothing but think about my books and how they made me feel.

    I see my daughter experiencing that now. She reads when she wants, and sometimes she just sits and thinks. Occasionally she shares those thoughts with me. That’s what I want for myself. Pressureless time to read and sit and think.

    And I’m going to read all fun fiction–starting with the Ancients. (You’ve ruined random reading for me. I have to read in chronological order now, I cant control it. Btw, I wouldnt have it any other way ;o). Thanks Susan.)

  • Melissa

    I would read “The Far Pavilions” by M .M. Kay
    for the 10th time, and then cut out a new patchwork Quilt.

    I hope you have a lovely break,

  • JFS in IL

    Get all 20 (well, 21 if you count the last bit of book 21 he wrote before he died) of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin series and a cool drink and sit under a tree and read! If you have seen the film Master and Commander you can imagine Russell Crow as Aubrey as you read. Christopher would probaby enjoy these books, too.l

  • mary kathryn

    Would you travel for your break? Go to the Outer Banks of NC, which is relatively undeveloped in some spots. Long walks on the beach. Read Trollope. It’ll take forever. I like “The Last Chronicle of Barset.” Don’t memorize too much Donne or you won’t write your own poetry. Stay until your non-fiction troubles have subsided and other thoughts rise to the surface; then write about those. Leave only when you have slept until 9:00, two mornings in a row.

  • strider

    Good for you–sounds like a well-considered decision for your sanity. Enjoy your break to the fullest.

  • Sheila

    I have always admired your work and WTM was the first book I read many moons ago to find my way through commitment to homeschool. I too just finished my Ph.D. after many, many years of not working on it. May’s commencement was a wonderful, radiantl moment to share with my husband and three (young, homeschooled) children. As we left “Mama’s school,” my nine-year-old sighed, “This day will never come again.” But now I feel entirely lost. Why? Everyone keeps saying that I must be so excited and relieved to be finished, and I am, but I struggle with a strange feeling that it wasn’t I but someone else who wrote those 400 pages. Why does sucessfully finishing feel more like a mild trauma than a clear victory, at least right now? I have several editing projects sitting on my desk, one of which requires swift action, but I dread it all at the moment. I plan on submitting the dissertation for publication, but dread any of it at the moment. Several PhDs have shared stories of similar “funks,” but–now that I think about it–all these stories are from men. With academic jobs. Good luck to you and I really am eager to see you flesh out your plans.

  • Susan in TX

    Oooo, where to begin? I too am taking a break. Start with some never-fail-to-relax-you P.G. Wodehouse, you know just to loosen up. Then I would pick up some Miss Read (a few new reprints were released in May), some Nero Wolfe mysteries, and ease in to more difficult reading. I recently pick up the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy for myself because I’ve never read it, but haven’t been able to pick it up yet due to the size. One I’m reading aloud to my husband for the sake of sheer fun is the Princess Bride (the book is funnier than the movie, no surprise). I could type for paragraphs since I have over 200 books on my “to be read” shelf ;). Alas, one day this mom will catch up. Since you have 3 boys, Booth Tarkington’s Penrod might be another source for a good chuckle. (It’s still hard for me to imagine the same author writing The Magnificent Ambersons.) Oh, and if you haven’t had time for them, the Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron are quite entertaining. Notice all my recommendations are staying in the light and fun category. No joke, I could type for hours on this, my favorite subject! 🙂 Whatever you choose, ENJOY! And, be sure to share your great finds with the rest of us!
    Susan in TX

  • Jeff

    I was moved and inspired by your review of “Finally Feminist” in B&C a couple issues back, and sought out your blog. I’m very excited for you to get a break — Enjoy it! Charles Williams’ novels, though at times dizzying in their obscurity, are often breathtakingly insightful and always interesting. If you don’t have time to read all of his novels (and who wants to put all of their time in one basket — to mix a metaphor), I would definitely recommend “Descent Into Hell,” and, if you want more, “All Hallows’ Eve” is very good. On the lighter side, but with that same wide-ranging curiosity, are the novels of the Canadian author, Robertson Davies. “Fifth Business” is probably is best-known novel, but any of the novels in the Cornish Trilogy (“The Rebel Angels,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “The Lyre of Orpheus”) are also great reads. Regarding that last set, the novels each stand on their own, so there’s no need to read all three. Anyways, I’ve gone on too long. Enjoy the rest of your writing time, and, again, have a great break!

  • Sherrill in WA

    I hope this isn’t blasphemous to even suggest, but for this kind of a break, perhaps you don’t necessarily want to do TOO much reading. Why not drive down to Okracoke and stare at the ocean for a few days? I just wonder if sometimes those of us in the business of words can get overloaded on reading. Gasp.

    But if you MUST read, I recommend the No. 1 Ladies Detective Club series. Light but not brain-dead or silly. A great ocean-side (or pool-side) read.

    And I think you should firmly schedule time to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Sometimes I schedule my “breaks” so heavily, wanting to make the most of the time, that I come back needing a rest. Oops.


  • Sylvia

    If I had two months off I’m not sure what I’d do, but I work in the publishing industry and have to face the fact that no one I know will ever see the work I do. In fact, now that complimentary copies are no longer part of the deal, once it’s done, I’ll never see the work I do, either. So if it were my vacation, I would make something–a project I could start and finish in the time alotted, something I could look at every day for the next grueling nine months, and think, “Now there’s something I made with my own hands.” It’s nice if it’s something wearable, or portable, so lots of other people can enjoy it and comment on my work. But something big is nice too–a stone wall, a perennial bed. I would also pick up an instrument I don’t normally play and practice every day, with lessons. It’s fun to think about!

  • Christina

    I would make a quilt just for me in all of my favorite colors, and definately some extra sleep would be on my plan. I have to second the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, so light and fun, they beg to be read with a nice cup of tea. Enjoy your break!

  • Nicole

    I definitely vote for going somewhere for a break. Staying at home is not the best idea because there are too many interruptions and you never get as much done as you think, which keeps you from enjoying the break. I say either go someplace that isn’t overrun by tourists this time of year (don’t ask me where that might be), someplace that you’ve never gotten around to visiting but have always wanted to, or go see your brother and his family for a few days. Stay away from libraries and have minimal contact with e-mail and phones.

  • Kelli

    I would…
    1. Read:
    “I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith
    “Katherine” by Anya Seton
    “To Say Nothing of the Dog” by Connie Willis
    (Love the Shopaholic books for on-a-break reading, but see you’ve read those!)
    “Two-Part Invention” by Madeline L’Engle
    and “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson

    2. Watch the series of “Nero Wolfe Mysteries” produced by A&E
    and all seasons of “24”, “Alias” and “The Office”

    3. Make Chicken Spezzatino from Giada De Laurentiis’ cookbook: “Everyday Italian”

    4. Play “Waltz No 2 from Jazz Suite No. 2” by Shostakovich over and over ’til the family goes crazy

    5. Go buy a new camera

  • Sylvia

    My reading suggestion: Neal Stephenson’s Baroque trilogy (Quicksilver; Con-fusion; and System of the World) and Cryptonomicon (written before the trilogy, but read it afterward). Big books, great fun, challenging. Anyone writing a history of the whole world would especially appreciate Stephenson’s reach!

  • Karen K.

    Hi Susan,

    I don’t have any book suggestions, because I probably wouldn’t read to recharge from doing lots of writing (that’s just me, though!).

    My first choice would be to take a weekend trip to see an out-of-town friend. If that’s not possible, then I’d talk on the phone for hours and hours with my out-of-town friends. Also, I’d like to cook and have in-town friends over (cooking used to be my main hobby), meet up with friends for coffee or lunch, watch a movie or two at the theatre, spend time doing something with my hands other than hold a book or type (play piano, cook, do a craft, make a friendship bracelet for my daughter).

    I think mostly I’d try to catch up with people I hadn’t seen/talked with in awhile.

  • Sylvia

    One more reading suggestion: Umberto Eco’s Baudolino. Another wide ranging historical novel whose frame narrative takes place during the sack of Constantinople. It’s a locked-room mystery with lots of adventure and fantastic detail. This is good reading on so many levels.

  • Sherry
  • Mary F Simon

    I have been reading Mary Renaults fiction on ancient Greece. My favorite so far is The Last of the Wine. You have probably already read them. Also the absorbing book, Atonement.

  • Ginger H.(Holland)

    The wild beaches of NC, kayaking in the sound, ride a bike and don’t forget to go fishing somewhere for hours.
    A sunny southern island…Key Largo, float, and snorkle. The Humphrey Bogart movies: Key Largo is appropriate viewing while in the Keys; Maltese Falcon and Casa Blanca are personal favorites. Bringing up Baby is just silly with Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant.
    I thought you wanted to have fun, and relax. Is it hard for you to be still, be at peace? Have to always be thinking about what is happening NEXT? Leave your watch at home.
    Just remembered: the very old Scarlet Pimpernel is hilarious.
    Take a small five speed auto out for a test run. I’m thinking of what I would do if I took off two months…how about being completely alone in my home for three days? No dog, no birds, no kids. Allow the husband but no computer, or phone.
    Help in a soup kitchen or food distribution for the needy, meal delivery to the old and infirm, then go home after a full shift and count my blessings.

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