What I Did Over My Summer Vacation
I began my ten-week summer vacation in ;ate May 2015 with a trip to Houston on the Wednesday following Memorial Day. The purpose of the trip was to help my sister Anna move some of her belongings from her temporary housing in Houston back home to southern Louisiana. She is an engineer with Chevron, and she was finishing a two-year stint in Houston.
On that Wednesday night, my first night, my sister was driving us (herself, my nephew Aidan, and me) to dinner when she asked me, “What are you going to do this summer?”
I responded, “I am going to write my third book.”
Allow me to help you envision the look my sister gave me immediately following my answer: Imagine that I had just given birth to two children in two years and that I had just told her, “I’m pregnant.”
That’s the look. A combination of Are You Kidding and You Must Be Crazy.
Upon first hearing of my plan, my sister’s girlfriend, Gina, asked, “Do you not like summer?”
I get it. But here’s what I know: My ten-week summer vacation is the time for me to write a book, and if I want to write a book and not wait until the next year, I must do so when summer rolls around.
And for all of the effort and discipline it takes, I am really enjoying writing books.
If I could, I would move those ten weeks to December in order to give myself more of a reprieve from one book to the next. However, knowing that my book-writing opportunity is fixed, I realized long before May that I needed to figure out how I was going to manage writing a third book.
I already knew what topic the third book would cover: school choice. But I also knew that I must figure out how to not burn myself out.
My first book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Information Age, 2014), was by far my longest: 24 chapters. Too, within weeks of signing the contract to write my first book, I was also slated to have an unanticipated major surgery that would require my leaving school two weeks early. At the time, I did not know how my medical issues would affect writing the book, and I had to get my affairs in order at school because I was ending my school year prematurely. I am a member of a wonderful faculty, and I am especially indebted to my recently-retired English colleague, Susan Summers Muchmore, who graciously assumed responsibility for both grading my students’ research projects and entering my final grades. And I am also grateful to my long-term substitute, Bob Branson, who completely assumed responsibility for providing the lessons taught to my students in those two weeks.
As I was healing from my surgery, I was able to write. And midway through the summer, I was writing a chapter every two days (writing 7 to 11 hours a day) in order to complete all 24 chapters before the next school year began.
That was my first book.
My second book, Common Core Dilemma– Who Owns Our Schools? (Teachers College Press, 2015), was considerably shorter than my first, which it needed to be in order for me two write it that next summer. I still wrote for about 7 to 11 hours a day on most days, but I had fewer 11-hour days, and I took more time for each chapter: 4 days, with one day off built in.
But in order to write a third book, my school choice book, I had to build in even more rest time to keep from burning out, and I knew it. And at the outset of my writing, I made no one any promises about finishing. For my school choice book, I set my schedule at one chapter every week. Ten chapters, ten weeks. A daily goal of 1,000 words, with one day per week built in to rest from working on the book.
Now, the ESEA reauthorization was on the floor of both House and Senate in mid-July, and this added to my writing burden considerably for a couple of weeks. Still, I was able to keep to my 1,000 words per day for six days a week, even through the Senate ESEA hearings.
I even managed to take a vacation to Fort Lauderdale for four days to visit a friend from college, Jason, and his wife Sonia and seven-year-old son Joshua.
Joshua knew that I was writing my third book (he asked for the first copy even though it is not a children’s book). He knew that I was on a schedule to write 1,000 words a day, and that I often did so before meeting up with his family each day.
On one occasion, as the four of us were headed to dinner, I told Joshua, “I want to tell you a story.” My story had nothing to do with my book, but before I could begin, Joshua asked, “Is it about your fourth book?”
I told him my mind was not even on a fourth book and that I still had to finish the third one. But his quick question made me smile.
Indeed, even as my sister Anna was giving me that Are You Kidding or Crazy look in Houston in late May, my second book, Common Core Dilemma, had not yet been published.
My other sister, Rita, asked for a copy of Common Core Dilemma to read this summer. By this time (early July), she knew I was working on my third book.
Standing in her kitchen, she had a mock interview in which she was both interviewer and me responding:
“So, what is your secret for writing these books so fast?”
I hadn’t thought of that. People might think I write so much as a result of abusing substances.
Not so. I hardly even take aspirin.
My sister was only registering her amazement in our unorthodox, Schneider fashion.
So, here I sit, drug free, at the end of Week Nine and having written nine out of ten chapters. Three days ago, after I wrote my first 1,000 words for chapter 9, it hit me like a flood of quiet celebration:
I have written three books.
I began on chapter 1 of my school choice book sitting at my sister Anna’s kitchen table in Houston while she was at work, and it is highly likely that I will complete chapter 10 this week as I sit at my own dining room table. (Chapter 10 will be easier in that it is a summation of what was gleaned from chapters 1 through 9.)
And still, by God’s grace, I slept for seven hours on most nights; I managed to swim at least five days a week and enjoy the Jacuzzi afterward on most of those days; I was able to visit friends and relatives; I took a trip, and I even started reading a book for fun.
And my aspirin bottle is still full. 🙂
As to continuing writing more serious posts for this blog, I might lay low for a few more days.
Just a few.
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.
She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, newly published on June 12, 2015.