From the workshop

From the workshop November 15, 2017


Like my study
Christen Dalsgaard, “A Carpenter’s Workshop” (1855)
Wikimedia Commons public domain)


Several people have inquired about the “manuscripts” that I’ve been citing and from which I’ve been drawing in my posts over the past few months.  They want to know what they’re for, and when they might actually appear.  Permit me to explain:


Some of them — including a few from which I haven’t yet quoted much if at all — really deserve the term manuscript.  The materials that I’ve been posting about Muhammad and about the Jewish and Christian religious history preceding his appearance certainly do; I hope to have the entire thing finished and off to the publisher perhaps in the spring.  It consists of a reworking and expansion — and, particularly in the last two chapters — of a complete replacement of my earlier book Abraham Divided, which went through two editions.  This new version will be so substantially different, I think, that it will, on the whole, be best to describe it as a new book rather than as a third edition.


I’ve explained previously that my blogging had been tending to be at war with, and to come at the expense of, my writing for publication.  (I don’t, personally, consider blogging “publication.”  I keep track of the numbers of words that I write for publication each day and each week, and have done so for years; I don’t include blog posts in that word count.)


When, responding to a request from Google, Patheos requested that my blog entries always weigh in at 400+ words, I was already in a bit of a personal crisis over blogging.  It was, simply, taking too much of my (very limited) time, and ephemeral things were interfering projects that I valued more highly.  The “urgent” task of regular blogging was thwarting my attempts to devote sufficient time to what I deem more important tasks.


So I hit on the idea of using the blog, in the case of the Abraham Divided revision, to go through the already-written book passage by passage, making changes to the wording where I thought it advisable and, offline, making notes to myself of places where I wanted to make more substantial alterations or additions.  In this fashion, the blog becomes an asset for my writing for publication, rather than a liability.  And, of course, I hoped that readers might find what I posted helpful and interesting, and that these scattered posts might even serve as a “teaser” for when the finished book appears, encouraging some, at least, to consider buying it.


Others among the “manuscripts” that I’ve cited — notably, the one on science — are really files more than manuscripts proper.  That is, they contain some short original passages, but they’re mostly full of notes, quotations, close paraphrases, suggestions for (my own) further reading, specimens of arguments, one-word or one-phrase reminders of topics that I want to treat or of potential challenges that I should address, and so forth.  They’re organized very roughly according to a broad preliminary outline that I’ve had formulated for the argument I intend to make, but they’re nowhere near — and, in the case of the science file, probably not within several years of — being ready to go to a publisher.


How does excerpting things from this file advance my glacial pace toward its completion and publication?  When I draw material from the science file, I’m reminding myself what’s there.  (I haven’t really been working on it for several years, so this is helpful to me.)  And often, when I post quotations about science, I’m excerpting them from books that I’ve read but from which I haven’t yet copied the quotes.  So this helps because, after I’ve blogged a quotation that I liked, I copy and paste it into that science file.  But they remain undigested, unintegrated, raw material.


A small handful of zealous and industrious critics have discovered that there are unmistakable similarities between some of those notes and certain sources from which I’ve plainly drawn them.  Yep.  That’s why I call them “notes.”  They’re not finished works.


When and if the science manuscript (for example) is ever completed for publication, those notes will have been re-ordered, considerably supplemented or overlaid with yet further materials (some from items already read but not yet excerpted, some from books and articles still on my to-read list), and heavily re-written, and very few of the lengthy quotations will survive untrimmed.


But “blogging the books” that I have in process — at various levels of completion (or incompletion) — is proving helpful to me, and I hope that at least some of the materials that I’ve shared here have been of interest to others.



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