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To Sleep, Finally

Last night, at midnight, I sent in the final revisions of my upcoming Dante book. It’s done. What you can’t see on the other side of the screen is how hard I’ve been working on it, under an unusually strict deadline. I’ve never worked harder for a more sustained period of time on anything in my life. I don’t say that to complain — I love what I do for a living, and it is in every way a blessing — but to say that I have not been as productive on this blog as normally because every waking moment, seemingly, has been devoted to writing and rewriting the book.

I’m sick again, with mono, for the first time in a year. What triggered it was some family conflict — the thing that started it in the first place — but my autoimmune system was really weakened by all the late nights and gallons of coffee. The good thing about it is that I know now how to get healthy again: contemplative prayer, and applying the lessons I learned from Dante and from therapy. It takes a while, though. I feel like I could sleep for weeks. It’s hard to express the depth of fatigue this stuff imposes on you. It’s not like normal tiredness. When I’m going through this stuff, I wake up feeling exhausted, routinely, which is a very weird feeling, and a depressing one if it lingers. I wish I could go off to a monastery somewhere, and live quietly in a cell for a couple of months, just to chill out and regain my health. But life.

I want to say again here how unutterably valuable my editor in this Dante book project has been. She inherited the project under difficult conditions, and led me through to its completion. She has worked about as hard as I have, and in every way, she has made it a better book. In fact, she has made it a book, period. I think about the first draft of the book, written in three weeks, and cringe with embarrassment. In fairness to myself, the fact that I wrote 94,000 words in three weeks in the first place is a wonder, but still, they were pretty crappy words: unfocused, repetitive, etc.

After six weeks of incredibly hard work under her leadership, we have a credible book to publish later this year. It is almost like a miracle. What you will see when the book comes out, eventually, will be very, very, very different from the lump of clay it began as. Writing is a solitary art, but writing well requires a gifted editor. At least in my case.

(The reason I’m not telling you her name is because I don’t want to embarrass her. When the book is published, I’ll tell you who it is. Her name should be proclaimed from the rooftops.)

The book, which went through five or six versions before concluding last night, ended up being about 95,000 words, which is a little long for a mainstream book like this. And even then, reading the thing makes me realize that I’ve only scratched the surface of Dante. It’s frustrating knowing that there’s so much more you could have said, but the truth is, unless you’re an author with a big following already, most people aren’t going to read a book longer than that (publishers have done their market research). One thing that rattles me about this book is that so much of it involves me and my own inner struggles, and how reading Dante and applying the lessons of the Commedia to my life brought me out of a dark wood.

The first draft was a lot more Dante-focused, but the small, disparate group of readers I had looking over my drafts did not like that at all. The felt it was too pedantic, and that the book didn’t have much to say to people who weren’t already interested in Dante. To make this book come alive, they said, you need to tell us how Dante saved your life, and let readers make their own inferences about how he might do the same for them.

That’s the book I’ve written, and it’s the only kind of Dante book I could have written. If you want an introduction to Dante, there are plenty other books you could read that are leagues better. The introduction to Dante that I’ve written is therapeutic and practical. But it’s how I met Dante, and experienced him. My hope is that it will inspire others to do the same. Still, I wish the book were less memoir-ish. But who knows? That might be exactly the entry into Dante that ordinary people want and need. This is the kind of book that I can easily imagine book clubs, Sunday school classes, groups of friends, and so forth, reading together, along with Dante, and talking about. In fact, I’m thinking about starting a Dante club here in my town, a small group that reads the Commedia together and gets together to talk about it in a practical way — that is, to talk about how Dante can change our lives. I hope others will too.

I have another book that I’m halfway finished with — a book I’m co-authoring with someone. And I have to give two papers this weekend in Wichita. Plus this blog to write. I have never been happier as a writer, and because writing is what I do for a living, I’ve never been happier, period. But damn, am I tired. I wrote about my sister that cancer is a “family disease,” because the entire family suffers along with the cancer patient. I now believe that professional writing is a family disease. Ask Julie and our kids about what my vocation has taken out of them. Go ahead, ask.


25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "To Sleep, Finally"

#1 Comment By Jonathan On January 12, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

Thank you,

You have inspired me to continue writing. Now back to my fictional story wherever it takes me. I am off to a bad start but then again who knows where it will take me.

#2 Comment By Robin Abrahams On January 12, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

“Ask Julie and our kids about what my vocation has
taken out of them. Go ahead, ask.”

If I recall correctly, the last time a commenter asked about the effect of your “vocation” on Julie–and quite politely too–you flipped out on her and said she’d never get married with an attitude like that.

#3 Comment By Hoosier On January 12, 2015 @ 2:06 pm

Great. When can we expect it to be released? Can’t wait to dig into this.

[NFR: Not sure yet. I’ll let you know as soon as a release date has been set. Thanks! — RD]

#4 Comment By Pat On January 12, 2015 @ 2:24 pm

Congrats on finishing it! And I’m glad it will be more memoir-ish, because that interests me more. I’ll be looking for the release date.

[NFR: I’ll let you know when I have one. Thanks! — RD]

#5 Comment By k On January 12, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

Ooh, I’m so glad that it turned out memoir-ish.
Feel better soon 🙂

#6 Comment By Bart W. On January 12, 2015 @ 2:54 pm

Look forward to buying the book.

#7 Comment By Michelle On January 12, 2015 @ 3:03 pm

Get some rest! We can live with fewer blog posts if it means your on the road to recovery.

And a hearty Mazel Tov on finishing your book.

#8 Comment By Carol On January 12, 2015 @ 3:14 pm

I hope and pray you are feeling better soon, Rod.

#9 Comment By Sam M On January 12, 2015 @ 3:29 pm

Yes. The process takes a toll. I can’t imagine what it’s like given the turnover and the accelerated process. Congrats on soldiering through it.

As for memoir, my gut says that’s the right thing. Even if you wanted to write a scholarly treatise, I don’t feel like that would reach the audience you are hoping for. And I don’t mean that from the business angle. I mean, I feel like you really want to open this up to people who might not otherwise explore Dante.

Looking forward to it!

#10 Comment By Jason On January 12, 2015 @ 3:40 pm

I think Michelle above is right Mr. Dreher, that you should do the absolute minimum as far as writing is concerned until you are well again. You won’t be able to do a good job personally or professionally if you are not healthy. And why not go on a brief retreat: not necessarily for a few months but a few days, especially if it will make you feel better after working so hard.

#11 Comment By Rusty On January 12, 2015 @ 3:47 pm

Congratulations on a goal well-met, and feel better soon Mr. Dreher.

Peace and health be upon you.

#12 Comment By Jeremy Hickerson On January 12, 2015 @ 3:57 pm

Alright, and congratulations on finishing it! I know I’m always drawn in by your accounts of your personal struggles and victories – I think emphasizing these in the Dante book is a good choice.

#13 Comment By charles cosimano On January 12, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

Congratulations on the ending of the project and living to tell the tale. Now get some rest and get well.

(94,000 words in three weeks? Are you sure you are actually human? :))

#14 Comment By John Murray On January 12, 2015 @ 4:41 pm

Congrats on finishing Rod. Not only will I read your book, I’ll BUY it!

#15 Comment By Mark Moore On January 12, 2015 @ 4:49 pm

Congratulations on finishing your book! Be well.

These words caught my eye: “The introduction to Dante that I’ve written is therapeutic and practical. But it’s how I met Dante, and experienced him.”

Is it just a coincidence that one of your concerns is also M Therapeutic D?

[NFR: “Therapeutic” is not a bad word. — RD]

#16 Comment By Peter Franklin On January 12, 2015 @ 4:50 pm

How dare you write that well even in the depths of exhaustion!

#17 Comment By Gromaticus On January 12, 2015 @ 5:03 pm

To Sleep, Finally

Ah, the title of your next book: “To Sleep, Finally – How Milton Cured My Insomnia.”

[NFR: No, Gary Shteyngart. I’m reading his memoir “Little Failure,” on the recommendation of my son Matthew, and I want him to be my new best friend. — RD]

#18 Comment By Ted On January 12, 2015 @ 7:31 pm

Congratulations! Feel better

#19 Comment By Liam On January 12, 2015 @ 7:34 pm


#20 Comment By Maxine On January 12, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

“Ask Julie and our kids about what my vocation has taken out of them. Go ahead, ask.”

Dear Julie and kids,

What has Rod’s vocation taken out of you?


His readers

Note to Rod: Nobody has an “autoimmune system.” Immune systems can be attacked by autoimmune diseases.

#21 Comment By KC On January 12, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

Best wishes! My experience & those of my circle is that illness often follows overwork. Getting a break, maintaining a balanced life; so important yet sometimes unobtainable!

Lovely that this has not dampened your enjoyment of your work. I find it saps the joy right out of work if there is no respite.

Congrats & get well soon!

#22 Comment By Mister Man On January 12, 2015 @ 9:04 pm

CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! I can’t wait to read it! !!!

#23 Comment By nan On January 12, 2015 @ 9:36 pm

God bless! Get well and congratulations on running the race with patience and fortitude.
Hope the book comes out before Christmas because I am planning it as a gift for many:)

#24 Comment By Kim A On January 12, 2015 @ 9:59 pm

Congratulations on getting it done! I’m looking forward to your book coming out. When it’s available for pre-order let us know! I’m looking forward to your book, and I’m planning on re-reading Dante along with it.

#25 Comment By Joan On January 13, 2015 @ 4:19 pm

Congrats! This reminds me of the last semester of my master’s program.

If the book comes out as an e-book before the print version, let us know.