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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Dabney's writing habits

This passage discusses Dabney's meticulous writing strategies and techniques. He emphasizes the importance of vacations.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DANIEL JORDAN:
I wondered if we might talk now about your general work habits. What I had in mind is the kind of thing that Dumas Naboue wrote about Freeman when he wrote an introduction to one of Freeman's Washington volumes. He described exactly how Freeman wrote his history. Would you mind commenting on how you write your history from the standpoint of a schedule?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I have a schedule of sorts, but it is nothing like Freeman's, you can be sure of that. His was unlike anybody's in the world, I suppose, what with getting up at two o'clock and working until he went to bed at seven and scheduling everything by the minute and hour. That would be intolerable from my standpoint. When I'm writing a book, which I am doing most of the time these days, I try to work from about 9:30 in the morning until 1:00. I am pretty well tired out at 1:00, which is lunchtime. I have lunch and then I usually lie down for three quarters of an hour or an hour and usually go to sleep for part of that time. I then either play tennis, which I do three days a week, or I go into town on some mission or another, or if it is good weather, I take a walk a couple of times a week for two miles, or I go to some social event and relax and then have dinner at night. Afterwards, usually my wife and I just read or look at t.v. if there is something good on t.v.; we don't look at it very much, only when there is some special thing like a news program or "Upstairs, Downstairs." I generally read at night more than anything else and do a good deal of research. I do it without working at a breakneck pace and getting worn out with it.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you write and research simultaneously or do you research and then write it and research again?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I write on a certain period during the morning and I may be reading on a later period at night. I will have finished reading about the period, of course, before I write about it. When I am getting ready for the next period that I'm going to write about, I read at night and make notes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you have a certain number of drafts in mind when you start formal writing?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I'm lucky if I write two double-spaced pages in that period from 9:30 to 1:00. About four or five hundred words, around two hundred and fifty to a page. I don't generally get that much written. I write it over several times, either then or when I begin the next day. I never get the thing right the first time, or the second time, usually.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you normally make an outline before you start writing?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
I outline each chapter, yes. I try to outline the book, too, roughly, and I always outline the chapters.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you try to keep a certain schedule like a chapter by a certain date and another chapter by another date and so on?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, in order to meet the deadline for the publisher, I try to do that. I generally in my mind figure roughly that it will take me from a month to six weeks to do a chapter and then I figure out how many chapters there are going to be and then I can tell roughly how long it's going to take. I have interludes in there, vacations or what-not, for it does me good to get away and not have it on my mind. But, nothing does as much good as tennis. If I am groggy and tired and very tense or bothered, if I can play three sets of tennis, I just feel like a new man. Every time, it never fails.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Do you compose on a typewriter . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.