Part 4: A Year in a Shed

I began writing the book on 8 June 2007.  It was published on 15 August 2011.


First steps in drafting the manuscript

On returning to the UK in June 2007, I went back to my family home in the East Anglian countryside. It has a long apple orchard, squeezed between two cow fields. Halfway down that orchard is a one-room wooden shed containing a desk and a bed. I moved in my computer and got to work.

Between then and the end of September 2007 I visited my sister and her new daughter in Yorkshire, paid my respects to several important people and attended the Glastonbury music festival. All that took six weeks, leaving two and a half months for writing.

During those first two and a half months, I produced a 25-page book plan, spent a week typing up my notes (60,000 words of material; 130 sides of A4), then added those to the 80,000 words I returned with, to create a 150,000-word (350-page) document. Voila: a first draft.

That was the easy bit.


The writing shed, where I lived for a year


Writing the philosophy

From 1 October 2007 I began attacking the final philosophical sections and supporting build-up material, subject by subject. The key philosophical subchapters are between 1,200 and 4,600 words long, with around 1,500 words of build-up material each. There are 14.

Each of those subchapters required three drafts to be good enough. Getting the first one I tackled (which is about the ecosphere) from first to second draft took two weeks. The next (which is about religion) took three weeks and the one after that (about cultural anthropology) 18 days.

I’d become adept at 500-word emails, but writing a book required painstakingly teaching myself an entirely new skill set. I was setting out complicated and abstract concepts which had to be accessible and fun. Everything then needed to fit into a tapestry of mutually-supporting ideas and nothing could be half-formed or fluffy.

Getting that sort of thing right takes time.

The context of my personal life during that year included a number of distressing and deeply distracting problems within my extended family. I was physically isolated, with no social life, no money and no girlfriend. In addition, lots of people made clear their exception to what I was doing.

It wasn’t until December 2007 that I was producing text good enough for the final product and by January 2008 that I knew I could do it. Following a book conference at the end of that month with my chief thesis adviser, my productivity accelerated. In April 2008, I reached the top of the mountain and began rolling down the other side, by which time I was totally in the zone and finding it difficult to communicate with the outside world. But boy did it get the job done.



That stage came to an end on 3 June 2008, by which point I had two written narratives: one mainly about travelling and one mainly about philosophy.

The next task was to arrange them.


Next: Binding Travel and Philosophy >


Praise for the end product:

He makes his case clearly and cogently, with supporting evidence from several disciplines
including economics, history, evolutionary psychology and genetics.
– Peter McDade, reviewer, The Actuarial Post


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