Monday, 11 April 2016

A Problem For Planners From the 17th Century

I've been reading, and enjoying very much, Ruth Scurr's biography of John Aubrey which is written in the form of a diary.  Aubrey was born in 1626 and spent much of his life collecting information - folklore, surveys of buildings and monuments falling into disrepair, natural history: pretty much anything that took his fancy.

One of his ideas was to make a Book of Lives of his contemporaries, a collection of short biographies which would include personal anecdotes as well as simply listing achievements.

March 1680: "I have made an index for my Book of Lives: it includes fifty-five persons (I have done ten of them already, including four pages on Sir Walter Raleigh). It will be a pretty thing when it is finished.  I am so glad my researches for Mr Wood and my promise to write the life of Mr Hobbes have led me to collect these other lives.  I do it playingly.  This morning, I got up by 10 and wrote two lives....If I could get up by 7 a.m., I could finish my Book of Lives in a month."

Oh, how many hours of my life have I spent planning writing a book!  Just like Aubrey I've written out a list of chapters or ideas.  I've worked out a schedule of writing - if I write 1000 words a day, I'll be finished within 3 months, if I write 2000 I'll be done in less than 2.  When I first started writing, I even worked out a schedule based on 5000 a day - perfectly possible if I got up at 7am, or 4am or write through the night.  It's like NaNoWriMo - 1667 words a day for a month?  Easy! And it is easy, in October.

Also like Aubrey, I've gloated over the prospect of the finished book.  I've seen the cover, I've seen all those typeset pages, perfect bound.  I've written the reviews (glowing, naturally) and given interviews.  I may even have given gracious acceptance speeches after winning awards.

January 1681: "How much work I would get done if I did not sit up with Mr Wylde until one or two in the morning, or if there was someone to get me up in the mornings with a good scourge!  I think I could finish my lives in a week, if I were to stop wasting time.  Sir James Long has invited me to stay again....Next week I will buckle to finish my Lives.  I am sure I could do it in a week."

Aubrey never finished his Book of Lives.*

And that's the problem with making plans for writing.   They're deeply satisfying to make, but at some point you've got to write the dratted thing.

*Luckily for posterity, Aubrey made sure that his writing and collections of manuscripts were deposited in various university and museum libraries. His contemporaries criticised him for his attention to details "too minute" or trivial, but he said - rightly - "a hundred years hence that minuteness will be grateful".  Without his work, much of the detail of the past would have been lost.

John Aubrey: My Own Life by Ruth Scurr


Penny said...

We visited Lytes Cary Manor recently - home of Aubrey's grandfather, apparently. Beautiful, open countryside. But I believe John A lost most if not all his estates in his lifetime. Interesting writer!

Sarah Duncan said...

I've been to Lytes Cary Manor too and had an enjoyable time of fantasy house living! Yes, he "lost" all the land he inherited, mainly through being a terrible business man, as far as I could tell - he said himself he wasn't suited to it. It says something for his writing style that I remained sympathetic to him even though it didn't sound as if he treated his younger brother at all well when it came to giving him his share of the inheritance.

Hmm, I feel a blog post coming on...