Friday, October 16, 2015

A Book is A Journey?

Eh, no so much. I saw this in a blog post recently. Such metaphors are problematic, as they often elevate the writing of an article or book to an act of magical and spiritual proportions. A scholarly book is not a journey. It is a long piece of writing that comes together to meet a purpose. It is composed of chapters, which are far easier to write than is a whole book. Chapters are made of various notions we want to explore, and this is done thorough sentences. Sentences are composed of words.

If this makes me appear to be an unromantic simpleton, so be it. When I was negotiating some of the details of my book, Social Work Practice with Men at Risk, the wonderful social work editor at Columbia University Press the time, Lauren Docket (the current editor, Jennifer Perrillo, is also wonderful!), suggested that my proposed word count was too low. She reasoned that 120,000 words was not enough for a book that was to be the first of its kind in social work. She suggested 160,000 words as a far better length.

Gulp.  I hung up the phone, having agreed to her suggestion, and wondered how in the world was I going to write a book of that length. I was a bit freaked out. Before that, the longest thing I wrote from beginning to end was Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles; about 40,000 words long!

After some panic, I realized I did not have to write a book. I had chapters to write, of about 10,000 words each. Each chapter had key sub sections and in each chapter I had to integrate four theories of change. I could do that.

Was my book a journey? Sure, it was. After a few months start, I wrote intensively during a research trip to Peru. I spent several hours a day in my "office," Starbucks in Miraflores, in the artistic, romantic heart of Lima. I wandered the town and wrote in bars and cafes. When back home, I wrote each day, and magically saw the word counts grow; it began to come together over the course of months. Yes, writing that book was a journey, and it was a profoundly important step in my career. However, thinking of it as a journey at the time would have needlessly caused me anxiety. I needed to see it as a series of operationalizable writing tasks. I needed to make it small. I needed to be able to write sentences, and string them together.

Looking back, the writing of that book was a powerful journey, but viewing it as such may be best saved for quiet, personal moments of self reflection over a single malt scotch. Like right now. 

1 comment:

  1. Very helpful post. I totally agree. Since I am in the process of turning a master thesis, a presentation, an article and an idea into a book, I have thought about this in the same manner - breaking a large task down to manageable installments - however not so easily done.

    I also like to write sometimes in public, research libraries, at home... It is good to know that many people choose to work in the same manner, across the world. It really does make me feel part of a bigger whole - very nice.

    Oh, and I really bristle at metaphors such as "a book is a journey", although I think is more relevant than my pet hate: "The book is my baby, difficult labour..." Call me primitive, but I can assure you labour is more difficult! :-)