More On The Grafton Line: You Can Play Too

July 22, 2013, 9:39 am


L.D. Burnett sez: Bring it on, play-uhs.

We have just passed the half-way marker for summer, with a precious few weeks remaining before those emails about fall teaching start arriving.  And what to my wondering eyes do appear, as I was posting hilarious quotes about Kate Middleton’s labor on Facebook?

The Grafton Challenge.

For some time I have been following Saved By History, the blog of a certain L.D. Burnett, a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Ideas at University of Texas-Dallas. We are Facebook friends, so when I noticed comments about how generous senior scholars can be, I thought in a rosy haze, “Yes we are….but what did I do to deserve such a lovely compliment?”

Not so fast, Radical. It’s Princeton’s Tony Grafton she’s talking about.

Here’s the skinny. Yesterday, Burnett responded on blog to an interview in the Daily Beast with my pal Grafton (who is a generous person, but he is also one of the very few academics over 45 other than me and Bill Cronon who probably has a Google alert on himself, FYI.) In response to questions about his writing habits, Grafton says a great many things worth reading, but this is the one that caught Burnett’s eye:

“If I’m writing full-time I’ll get about 3,500 words per morning, four mornings a week.”

Burnett was, like, “Dude!” It was one of those moments similar to when, in my experience, you are in a single scull on the river, you pull up next to someone, catch their eye and then: BAM! You are racing for the dock at thirty-five strokes a minute.  Competition can be a good thing.

Therefore, after a brief moment of horror and an unexpected Facebook exchange with The Man, Burnett realized that she “was inspired by Grafton’s near-Trollopian output.  So I decided to issue — or take up — a challenge.  ’I'll race you,’ I said:  ’my dissertation v. your next project.’  To which he said, ‘Go for it.’” And the rest, as they say, is History:

Oh, I am going for it.  It is on like Donkey Kong!

There’s no way I can hit the Grafton line of 3,500 words, four days a week — that way madness lies.  Instead, I’m going to go for a different number, more in line with the parameters of my project.

Let’s say my dissertation ought to run to about 400 pages.  At 250 words a page, that’s a nice, round 100,000 words.Now, let’s say that the school year is about 180 instructional days.  It may be more, or it may be less — I haven’t counted.  But 180 is probably about right.

So, if I were to work on getting a complete draft of my dissertation done in 180 days, what would my word count need to be?

555 words a day.

So that’s my goal.  That’s my “Grafton line.”

And guess what? You are invited to play too! Finish your manuscript before Anthony Grafton does and win valuable prizes! (Self-esteem, good humor and bloggy fellowship are what sponsors have donated to date.) All you have to do is go to the original post and enter your numbers and you are in. I just did: 120,000 words, 12 months: that’s 10,000 real words a month, 2,500 a week, divided by five = 500 words a day.  But, as Grafton points out in the interview, not every word is a good word, so I’m going to double that to 1,000 words a day, five days a week.

The hashtag is #graftonline (a coolio double entendre.)

Be warned: there’s no graduate student division in this race and while I don’t think there are any rules about whether blog posts count, just remember: Grafton don’t blog!! 

Enough said. We’re off.

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