A lot goes into a volume like Scripture First once the individual essays are all more or less complete.1
Given that, it can be helpful to see behind the scenes of the editorial process. But it can also be helpful to see what others do on the smaller scale of their own contributions.
Probably nobody’s particular workflow is something that will work sufficiently well for someone else to simply copy. But seeing the way others do their craft, can give us helpful ideas for how we might improve our own.
To this end, I want to take you behind the scenes of my essay, “Understanding Scripture through Apostolic Proclamation.”
For simplicity, I’ll divide this overview into 4 different areas.
1. Topic Selection
The essays in Scripture First find their origin in a series of conference papers. Within this conference series, I was tasked with contributing a paper from the angle of New Testament studies.
That’s quite a broad area to play in, but it helped define somewhat the scope my contribution could take.
I decided then to treat 1 Cor 15 for basically 4 reasons:
- The chapter contains several scriptural quotations. The exact origin of a given quotation might not be entirely clear (e.g., v. 55). But focussing on the quotations allowed me, for the sake of space, to bypass the question of subtler allusions.
- The chapter begins with an explicit summary of apostolic proclamation (vv. 3b–5).
- The pairing of these first two elements seemed like fertile context for discussing how the declared belief in vv. 3b–5 directs how Paul interprets the texts he quotes in the following discussion. The relevance of this point is a conviction I came to in a prior project. So, it was natural to see how a similar argument might play out in a different text.
- I have another ongoing project on v. 29. So, additional work on 1 Cor 15 was going to be helpful in different ways for that project. (For an interim report on this project, see this discussion.)
2. Research and Writing Process
For some time now, I’ve tried to start drafting a project as early as possible after however much initial research. Then, as needed, I’ll pause the drafting to research particular points further before returning back to drafting.
Finally, at the end of the drafting and beginning of the editing phase, I’ll pull in however much additional research I can. This process has been helpful for me in managing the writing toward whatever word count it needs to try to hit while also being as comprehensive as possible within that scope.
In the case of my essay for Scripture First, I’d done similar work on other texts before. I’d also done some of the research as that overlapped with work to prepare for a couple different seminars that I teach—one on the Pauline letters and one on biblical theology.
Consequently, I started drafting comparatively early and did comparatively more drafting while simply pulling in and engaging sources I was already aware of. Then, I came back and folded in additional interaction as space allowed.
3. Time and Workflow Structure
I’ve generally found it most useful to try to structure writing into larger blocks, albeit with some flexibility around other events.
But the months that I was drafting my essay for Scripture First were the first ones where I had shifted over to this approach. Previously, I’d had a much more rhythmic schedule with writing taking the same slot in the day among other activities in other slots.
That approach worked well. But it sometimes left me mentally shifting gears away from the writing task before it was really time to do so. Working on expanding the length of the writing sessions I had and folding other activities into other larger blocks elsewhere seems to have helped me avoid that downside of more rhythmic scheduling.
I don’t have writing log records from that period. But I distinctly remember the subjective feeling of making progress on my essay for Scripture First much faster than I’d been accustomed to.
Under tools, it may be helpful to distinguish between writing tools and managing tools.
4.1. Writing Tools
I sometimes think I might like to use something else, but Microsoft Word makes good sense for biblical studies. It seems to have the lowest overhead in interfacing with other scholars and publishers, so that’s what I use.
With Word for more than a decade now, I’ve paired Zotero as a bibliography and citation manager. For this essay, Zotero proved to be a particular help too.
I initially drafted the essay according to SBL style before we’d fully settled on a publisher for the volume. Once we committed with ACU Press, however, we needed to format the essays based simply on Chicago style (with some minor variations).
Having used Zotero, I just had to select the Chicago style rather than SBL style in my essay document’s preferences. Zotero then automatically reworked all my citations accordingly.
There was still some editing I had to do manually to bring my typescript fully over to Chicago style. But Zotero took a lot of the legwork out of that process.
About the same time I started using Zotero, I also switched from Gramcord to Logos. At some point in the various upgrades since, I’d acquired Anthony Thiselton’s larger commentary on 1 Corinthians.
Thiselton is a primary dialog partner in the first portion of my essay in his Hermeneutics of Doctrine. So, I was particularly interested to see what complementary themes he might draw out in his commentary. Logos’s ability to show page numbers for the resource made interacting with it that much simpler.
4.2. Managing Tools
For several years now, I’ve used Todoist to help me keep up with all the spinning plates that are around. For this essay, I had several general “write” and “edit” tasks that I set, rescheduled, carried forward for several sessions, and eventually completed. (Now, I’d probably chunk the specific activities underneath those writing and editing tasks into smaller, more specific units.) Finally, I scheduled myself a task to submit the essay by its deadline.
Similarly, I mentioned above how I tried to carve out some comparatively larger blocks of time to write this essay. I reflected all those blocks on Google Calendar so I and others with access to my calendar could visually see those commitments of time to this project.
Again, I don’t share any of this because it’s necessarily the best way to work. My own process has continued to evolve since finishing the initial draft of my essay for Scripture First.
That said, I hope you’ll continue to be mindful of what works best for you, and I hope this post may give you some ideas of things you may want to try as you hone your own writing process.
Scripture First is available directly from the publisher, Amazon, or anywhere books are sold.