Earlier this week I sent my critique partners the first draft of my manuscript for J.R. No one besides me has seen it yet, not even my wife (my usual first reader), and it’s not even a complete draft.

J.R. is a picture book biography covering the first quarter-century or so of my subject’s life, and so far I’ve gotten him only to age 21 — there are some momentous developments I still have to get to. I’ve been working on this project pretty much exclusively since early November. What’s taking me so long?

Three things. One is that my subject’s autobiography is maddeningly light on personal details for much of the period that I’m focusing on — especially maddening when compared to his blow-by-blow accounts of political maneuverings he witnessed. So, it’s taken an unusual amount of research (with more still to come) just to flesh out my own understanding of his circumstances.

On top of that, whenever my subject quotes someone in his autobiography — be it about his personal life or his political one — whatever that person actually said is buried within a too-eloquent reconstruction undertaken by my subject when memoir-writing time came half a century later.

An example:

A few weeks later I met the bride on the street and asked her how she and her husband were getting along. “Splendidly,” she replied. “He is now acting all right. I now have no cause to complain of him and am of the opinion that I shall have none in the future.”

So, it’s taking me some time to cut through all of that — but without making up quotes more to my liking.

Finally — and part of what attracted me to this project in the first place — there was so much historically significant and relevant stuff going on during the years I’m covering that it’s a major challenge to figure out what to leave out, what to incorporate, and how to keep myself from writing another 6,200-word picture book manuscript.

My solution so far has been to take a more verse-like approach than I ever have before, at least as far the formatting I’m using for this draft.

By breaking my words
into partial-line sections,
I seem to be succeeding
at being more economical
with what I choose to say.

It’s kept my word-count down (below 1,000 so far), but the downside is that what I’ve written may well — and rightfully — be perceived as doggerel. I’ll know more after Saturday.