Working on “The Book”

By August 3, 2013 Blog 2 Comments

My goal for my website has been to post a research-related blog post about once a month to help myself record thoughts about my research and my research interests in relation to major events. But, for the past months I have been working exclusively on revising my book manuscript for final submission. I’m finding that working on this has crowded out all other types of writing. The book has become the lens that every academic thing I’m doing refracts—even things that seem tangential, such as teaching about the 20th century’s international politics this summer.

In April there was an article in the Chronicle by Steven Michels about writing a book that ended with:

Perhaps the biggest effect that writing a book has had on me is as a reader. I’ve always enjoyed writing book reviews, but now that I’ve gone through the process myself, I suspect that the critical element of my future reviews will be minimal. At this point, I can’t imagine offering anything other than these short words: “Good for you!”

I tweeted a week or so ago that since working intently on this I have come to a place where I find it difficult to critique any writing anymore. I’m sure I will harden my heart again.  (People who know me are doubtlessly laughing at that last sentence, so maybe better to say that I will harden my heart as much as it normally is.) However, considering all of the unavoidable imperfections inherent to any study of the social world, I now look at all of those books on my shelves and I find it hard to not see them as enormously brave. Not only brave, but even in the face of how incredibly difficult the endeavor of writing a book is, I am feeling even more in awe of all of the beautiful books that really uncover important things about the world around us.

I know I should have expected this to be hard, but it has still been a surprise how humbling it has been and how in the process I have come to appreciate the work of other writers even more than I already did. There is the feeling that the stakes are high because I’m writing about a topic I have spent years working on and that I care passionately about, but now I must communicate it to a broader audience. I also feel the weight of all of the people whose stories I believe I have here in this manuscript.

Then there is the more mundane cares–there has absolutely been a part of this process where I have been revisited by all of the flaws in the research and manuscript in some kind of awful “academic ghosts of defenses past and present” experience. Any shortcuts and any flaws I tried to forget about are there and demanding revision. The paranoia has mounted that I will send it in and then when it’s too late to change anything I’ll have an experience much like this:

zebra

Anyway, onward and upward zebras and all. I have two half written blog posts from before the book took over my brain (and the heart of what I think might be a great article written). They are in the queue for after the manuscript is complete when I will return to other types of writing!

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