Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.
This week’s featured write is John Cumbler, a professor of history at the University of Louisville who is also in phased retirement. He has published 6 books on social, economic and environmental history. His seventh book From Abolition to Equal Rights for All is now in press and should be out this fall. John Cumbler has also published a couple dozen articles but says he enjoys writing books more. He enjoys research and writing, although teaching is his real passion.
How I Write: John Cumbler
Location: Gottschalk Hall, University of Louisville
Current project: I just finished my last book project- an environmental history of a fragile eco-system. I have a couple short pieces on which I am working, but I am taking a break before I launch into a new book length project.
Currently reading: Mysteries and Game of Thrones
- What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
History pieces, either articles or book length projects. I also write advocacy pieces for popular media.
- When/where/how do you write?
I write away from other people. I usually write at home when I am alone. I mostly write in the late morning and early afternoon, but if I am caught up in something I can write into the night.
- What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
I began my writing career with a pencil and paper and then I would type up what I had written. By the time I was working on my second book I was working directly on the typewriter. My third and fourth books were a combination of paper and pencil and personal computer. By the time I was working on my fifth and sixth book I worked solely on the computer. Being alone is key for me.
- What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?
Do what works for you! I find it helps best to put down as much as you can on the first go. I work as long as the ideas seem to be fitting together. When they stop fitting together I take a break. I start up again either later in the day or the next day. Some people work best by disciplining themselves to work for a set period of time. That does not work for me. I work when it works for me to do so. When it doesn’t I take a break. Ideas push my writing. Getting started is hard, but putting down something helps move you along.
- What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
Pick up the pencil and start writing. There are always reasons to put off writing, but eventually you have to begin. Better to begin early and fill in the blanks than to keep stalling until you have everything. Everything is a high bar to get over. My advice to all my students is do what works for you.