Ann Dvorak Biography Progress Report #4
I am happy to report that I have been making serious progress on the Ann Dvorak biography, but had to completely alter my methods to get things moving along.
The first five chapters I wrote were done so in a very methodical and laborious manner. I would wait until I was “in the mood” to write, then would sit down at my desk, surround myself with mountains of research, put on a little mood music, and begin the excruciating task of putting Ann’s life on paper. The process was excruciating because I was attempting to make my first draft a final draft, which I now realize is ridiculous. As I worked on each sentence, I would shuffle through papers looking for facts and quotes, add proper citations, and would frequently stop to fact check things on the Internet which would lead to some serious time-killing. All this meant that each paragraph and most sentences would take an unbelievably long time to compose and I felt like I was back in college writing a term paper. A full-time job and an awesome husband who I want to spend time with also meant that that my free moments to work on the book were few and far between. In short, five chapters took me two years to write.
As I discussed in the last Progress Report, I had a baby in June and my free writing moments went from few and far between to nonexistent. I quickly realized I no longer had the luxury of getting in the mood and surrounding myself with a pile of research and the sweet sounds of the Andrews Sisters. I had to either figure out a way to squeeze in the writing while working forty hours a week and devoting all my free time at home to my daughter, or just put the project on hold indefinitely.
My husband is a writer by profession and whenever I would whine about my lack of progress, he would comment “just write it.” In other words, don’t stop to look for quotes, to cite things, or to fact check. Just get the basic narrative on paper and go back later to add those other things and polish.
The funny thing is that during my many years of researching Ann Dvorak’s life and career, I entered most of the info I found onto a spreadsheet. The idea was that once I finally sat down to write, I would have a fairly fleshed out time-line of events to easily reference. However, I was so busy shuffling through my chronologically arranged stacks of papers that I seldom looked at the spreadsheet I had spent so much time creating.
Last week, I made two drastic changes in my approach to writing the biography. First, I packed all the papers away and vowed to only reference the spreadsheet/time-line for the first draft. Second, I began taking my laptop to work so I can write on the 20 minute subway ride to and from work, as well as on my lunch break. So far, this has worked out amazingly well, and for the first time I am actually having fun writing the biography. I have been with Ann for so long and know her story so well that writing what I already know has been easy. In less than two weeks, I have written over 6,500 thousand words and am in the midst of the eighth chapter. This is triple the amount I completed in the ten months since my daughter was born. Granted this is a very rough first draft, and I will need to eventually go back to my mountains of research and be meticulous once again, but in the meantime I am really enthusiastic about the project, which I have not been for a very long time.