To that point, on a much smaller scale, I first read about veterinarian-author Dr. Jim Murphy in an article from Veterinary Practice News late last fall. Jim had just published his first book, Becoming the Beach Boys, 1961 - 1963. It wasn't until late spring of this year that I took the opportunity to talk with Jim about his writing and it wasn't until right now that you're seeing the fruition of our conversation.
So it goes.
On a much grander scale, it took Jim eight years to write this book, which has been described by the author as "...an academic look at the band's origin," including over 80 interviews, twelve appendices, and 1,100 foot notes.
Aren't you curious how and why Jim did this, while still finding time to practice veterinary medicine in DC? I was. So I asked him.
"I was still practicing part-time," Jim says. "On days off I would try to write as much as I could." On work days, he would write at night. "I had charts on my wall, Post-It notes all over the place--where should I start, where did this person or that person enter the story. You know, writing is really about solving problems. I had three dogs while I was writing the book. Sometimes, before writing, I'd take them for a walk in the park. It was so relaxing and I would think about the problems I was having and more often than not the solution would just come to me."
"I loved it because you learn so much when you write a book, especially that first book."
Jim was candid about how much time the sometimes-tedious research process took. "Writing non-fiction is a lot of research, involving digging into the Library of Congress, making phone calls, finding people, going through old high school year books," he says. "That part is really time consuming, really taxing. You spend hours and hours and hours which is ultimately productive but can be a drain. You've got to really love that sort of detective work. Then doing the interviews and figuring out what part of it can I use, then writing it up, transcribing--all of that. It's really a different type of writing than fiction."
|Dr. Jim Murphy|
"Life is short, time is finite, you never know how much more time you have so there is nothing, in my opinion, that is more important than doing something that brings you joy."
Dear readers, I cannot fathom working on a single project for eight years. Maybe I have a fear of literary commitment. A copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest waits, unread, on my bookshelf. And that's just reading. But when Jim explained his reasoning behind keeping his nose to the grindstone, it made sense. "The thing about The Beach Boys book, in everything that's ever been written about them in dozens and dozens of books over the last 55 years, no one had gotten the origin story correct," he says. "And I felt like, I can do this. I think I can find some of these people. That's what kept me going. There were times when the structure was all messed up and I was moving things around, backing up every night, frantic I was going to lose something because the document was so big and the only thing that really kept me going was: I think I can do this. I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
"[Writing is] frustrating, it's difficult, but it's so fulfilling when you get the words right."
At the end of the day, Jim says it comes down to doing what you enjoy. "That's something important in writing," he says. "Life is short, time is finite, you never know how much more time you have so there is nothing, in my opinion that is more important than doing something that brings you joy. When I was writing The Beach Boys book, there was not a day when I could not wait to sit down, turn on the computer, crack my fingers, have a cup of coffee, and tackle it. I was like a kid on Christmas morning. It's frustrating, it's difficult, but it's so fulfilling when you get the words right."
So what's on Jim's to-do list now? Fiction. He's working on a novel. "It's animal related," he says. "It's inspired by the [veterinary] profession. And it's so different. I don't have to interview anybody, and I'm free to create whatever I want to create. What I'm finding now, I kind of like this [fiction writing] because you can be as creative as you want. It's an open world. It's liberating. You can go anywhere with it."
Dear readers, I hope you're going where you want to go in your own reading and writing. Until next time, happy reading, happy writing, happy vetting.