Monday, July 21, 2014

Ms. Peppercorn Considers: Grafton Line

And now a post from our advice columnist in residence, Ms. Peppercorn:
Ms. Peppercorn has some apologies due to a correspondent who wrote earlier this summer. Here we are past the all-star break and she is just getting around to answering a query about the best use of time over the summer when one wants to be productive. Here is the question:

Dear Ms. Peppercorn,

For the first time in many years, I find myself with three months of mostly
uninterrupted writing time, and I am desperate to use it wisely. I worry, though, that without the structure imposed by fixed deadlines I will squander this rare gift of time and fail to make significant progress on my book manuscript. My academic Twitter and Facebook friends seem to have stumbled on the answer: something they call “Grafton Line.” What do you make of this? Just a passing fad, or a tried and true strategy for making the most of a writing summer? Could it be that the solution to this old academic conundrum really that simple?
Nervous in New England

Upon receipt of this request, Ms. Peppercorn began her research, and was stunned to learn that legal historians of otherwise respectable habits have become followers of the Grafton Line. What is that, asks the gentle reader. See this interview with Tony Grafton. The result has been a twitter feed #GraftonLine. Lots of people you know are on the facebook page. (For an overview, follow the link.) The internet is not just changing the way we read, but how we write, and how we think about writing. Ms. Peppercorn immediately descended into a funk. Efficiency? Competition? When did we become such bean counters? And 3,500 words in four hours of writing, sacré bleu!

A conversation with fellow legal historians after a wonderful recent conference put on by Barbara Welke at Minnesota revealed that the Grafton Line has become a vital element for several eminent scholars. They report greater productivity and vastly increased joy in their work.

Egad.

And mere mortals are imposing their own Grafton lines. 500 words per day, or 750. Something even a legal historian might aspire to. And many of them are finding a new kind of supportive community through their embrace of sharing their goals on blogs and twitter feeds.

Ms. Peppercorn must admit that she still thinks Anthony Trollope (who also wrote thousands of words every morning) was a pretty wretched hack, and apparently some people still read that stuff. But she has started counting her words. (This column will come in at around 500 or so; maybe a day’s work?) The Grafton Line, it seems, is so contagious, that even those who try to resist are drawn in. If this approach really helps to spur effort devoted directly to writing, perhaps my correspondent still has time to log in a productive summer!
Do you have thoughts about Grafton Line or tips for staying productive over the summer? Feel free to post a comment below or send us a message on twitter (@legalhistory).

Do you have a question for Ms. Peppercorn? Email us anytime.

1 comment:

Dan Ernst said...

If an academic can't think about the writing life in deepest summer, when can she/he? I've just finished Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird" (1994). Among other things, Lamott explains how one formed a writing group back in the days when everyone thought # was "the pound symbol." In her concluding chapter, she lists things not to be afraid of when writing, but ends with one thing to be afraid of: "Be afraid of not getting your writing done."