One author’s secrets to success

Jim rounding Cape Froward, the southernmost tip of continental South America, in the vessel Chonos, January 2005. Photo by John Rosborough.

Jim Delgado’s affable, dynamic and always doing something cool.

As a maritime archaeologist, he explores old wrecks world-wide and was among the first to dive the Titanic. He was executive director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum for 15 years and hosted the popular TV show, The Sea Hunters, for five.

He’s currently director of the Maritime Heritage Program for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as being president of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. He teaches at universities, contributes to scholarly and academic journals and promotes maritime preservation.

Oh yeah, he also writes books. More than 33 of them at last count. Khubilai  Khan’s Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada won the James Deetz Award in  January. The same month Nuclear Dawn: The Atomic Bomb from the Manhattan Project to the Cold War won the Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title.

Delgado’s newest book, Silent Killers: Submarines and  Underwater Warfare was released in June. And the next one, Iron, Pearls and  Gunpowder: The Incredible Saga of a Lost American Civil War Submarine, is already underway.

So how does he manage to do all this and have a life? I asked Jim and this is what he said:

1. I don’t need much sleep.

2. I have a quiet, private office and my wife screens all my calls.

3. I use all my travel time, in airports and on the plane, to work.

There’s not much anyone can do about the amount of sleep they  need. But most people can arrange their work space so distractions and  interruptions are kept to a minimum.

And when travelling, what better way to silence the overly chatty person sitting next to you, than flipping open your laptop or note book and announcing, ‘I have to work now.’

If you’re really serious about writing, you won’t wait for time to write. You’ll make time.


The worst part of writing a book

I really like writing books but there’s one part I hate. And it sneaks up on me every time.

After having several books published, you’d think I’d learn. But nope, there seems to be a big blank spot in my memory about writing a nonfiction book.

It’s an ugly, nasty, teeth-gnashing phase so no wonder I forget it. In fact, the only time I think about it, is when I’m right in the middle of it. Which is where I am right now.

I refer to it as the @#$*! stage of writing a book. Some folks call it the first draft.

No, this isn't me. But this is how I often feel when I'm in the @#&%! stage of writing a book.

This is where I have to take all my research and put it into some sort of cohesive order. That means deciding what goes in what chapter – and worst of all – deciding what’s included and what gets left out.

I know from past experience that intriguing facts and fascinating anecdotes will be cut due to the constraints of space and in the interests of flow. I can deal with that. It’s just all the decisions I need to make right now. Hours are spent staring at the computer screen, shifting text here and there and muttering away. By the end of the day I swear my brain is sweating.

Sometimes I think of this stage of a book like going for a long walk in a forest. There are many trails to take, each offering different experiences, some more exciting or challenging than others.

On rough days I liken it to climbing a rock face. Concentrating and knowing where to put my feet and hands (or facts and anecdotes) is critical. At times the top of the mountain seems impossibly far away.

Once in a while I wonder why the heck I’m doing this. But a glance down tells me I’m closer to the top than the bottom. And I know when I reach the summit, I’ll forget all about the @#$*! stage of writing a book again.

So I keep climbing. Writing my book one chapter, one paragraph, one word at a time.