Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Writer's Trap

Yes, I am still bogged down in the First Great Awakening.
The research becomes so interesting that I don't want to leave it. The other problem is that I have to squeeze three books down into about three paragraphs (in order to avoid breaking the thrust of the main narrative) and that is really hard work.
What's needed is a simple but accurate summary of complex ideas. For example, it looks as though Jonathan Edwards started out as the last great defender of Puritan ideals.  He was in no way reactionary, however, since he based his theology on the "new science" of Newton and Locke. Then he quickly evolved to lay the theological and experiential foundations of the revival movement, which has been such an important continuing force in American Protestantism.
And since John Locke was such an important influence on Edwards, I had to go back and review some of his stuff.  Fortunately these men's writings are available for free on the internet, because my bookshelves are full.
Only two of my ancestors probably read as much of this as I have: the Reverend David Thurston of Winthrop, Maine and the Reverend Henry Richardson, and they came along much later.  Those living in Edwards's time were ordinary working people, but they were regular church goers, and thus in the middle of the actual revival controversies. So the book will have a few more paragraphs about that.
Now, back to the real work.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

If Jonathan Edwards Could Inspire Backsliding Puritans, There May Also be Hope for Lazy Writers.

I've been making better progress on this book lately. What's my secret? Plain old self discipline. I have somehow been able to work straight through every morning this week between breakfast and lunch.  That has meant three to five hours of writing, but it doesn't mean I have covered much space.  I seem to be advancing at the rate of one paragraph per hour.

It's not that I'm trying to cover a lot of space these days.  I've already got enough words for a book–more than 100,000 of them, most written a few years ago when I was younger and faster.  My problem now is filling in the holes that I left open the first time through because they were kind of tough to deal with.

This week my tough spot has been The First Great Awakening.  That's the religious revival of the 1730's-40's, NOT the problem of getting up in the morning.  How did I get that far back in history? If you've read the side bands, you noted that I'm also checking out Henry's ancestors and the how the big events of their times may have affected them and perhaps Henry. I can't overlook religious movements because Henry's father and grandfather were both Congregational ministers.

The two giant figures of The First Great Awakening were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.  The latter is pretty easy to deal with because he is mainly known as an eloquent and tireless preacher, but Edwards was something else.  It's not easy to get your head around his theology, but to the extent that you do, it's worth it.  And I write that as a staunch agnostic.  Perhaps that's why I've put off facing these religious questions.

I'm taking today off for blogging, but next week I may deal with The Second Great Awakening.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sorry for That Bad Arithmetic, Of Course I know that Gettysburg was 148 Years Ago

I have corrected that unfortunate figure on most but not all editions of this blog.

I Almost Never Happened, But My Ancestor Managed to Survive Gettysburg 148 Years Ago Today

Here we are at an important date in history, which also happens to be my birthday.  Being as egocentric as most, I tend to forget about the history and think of my own important dates.  But today Paul Krugman's Blog sent me over to the Youtube movies about Gettysburg, which are really worth seeing even if not quite professional.

These films reminded me that 148 years ago today my great grandfather lay critically wounded in a Confederate field hospital improvised in a Gettysburg farmhouse.  The day before, Henry had ridden to the southeastern edge of town with General Ewell, in order to get a better view of Union defenses on Cemetery Hill. Henry was Chief Engineering Officer for Ewell's 2nd Corps, but Ewell relied on him as much for reconnaissance as for engineering.  In any case, they had not gone very far when both were hit by Union sniper fire from a distance which both thought too great for accuracy.

In Ewell's case, the "wound" was not serious, because the bullet hit his wooden leg, and he could easily replace it with the spare that he kept back at his command post. Henry was not so lucky.  The bullet hit him near the shoulder blade and lodged next to his lung, where it stayed til the end of his life.  So that is why he lay inert and helpless as the battle raged nearby on July 3rd.

On July 4th, Lee's defeated army prepared to withdraw to Virginia, but the Confederate medics decided that Henry's condition was too serious to permit him to be moved. Henry never expressed much gratitude - at least not in writing - for the care he received from Union doctors who probably saved his life.  He was even less appreciative of those who took care of him for the next year and a half at the prisoner of war camp on Johnson's Island, Ohio.

Fortunately, this ancestor was so tough, as his survival enabled me to enjoy this Happy Birthday 148 years later.

Friday, July 1, 2011

This Book is Progressing Too Slowly. Suggestions Please.

Yesterday, I realized that I hadn't made any real progress on this book for several months now.  About the same time, I received an email from a so-called self publishing service, with advice on how to finish a book really fast.  The essential idea was to isolate oneself from as many distractions as possible by holing up in a cheap hotel, subsisting on deliveries of pizza and Chinese food, and to do nothing but write.  There were other good suggestions such as how to make an outline with 300 3x5 cards sorted out on the floor, and how to boost self discipline by forcing oneself to write 2000 words before breakfast.

But the essential lesson for me was that I was trying to spread myself too thin.  I used to be able to multi-task a little, but I'm getting too old for that.  So, I am going to try to isolate myself a little more during this month of July.  That means that I'm going to suspend my two other blogs and make posts here shorter.  I may also shirk my share of household chores by ordering Chinese and pizza instead of cooking and shopping.

I guess Henry, my ancestor, had similar problems.  When he was young he wrote lots of beautiful long letters, but they got fewer and farther between as he grew older and became immersed in a responsible job.

If you have any suggestions, please comment.