Today was a very productive “writing” day, although no formal “writing” happened. I realized that in order to go forward with the chapter that I’m working on I needed to go backward and think about and face...
Today was a very productive “writing” day, although no formal “writing” happened. I realized that in order to go forward with the chapter that I’m working on I needed to go backward and think about and face the book-as-a-whole. I’ve been avoiding facing “the book-as-a-whole.”
My first book, which emerged out of my dissertation, was a much “tighter” project, even though the shape of it in some ways looks similar to the shape of this one. Ultimately, I had a very narrow scope for what I was trying to achieve, and so I knew where I was going pretty much from the very beginning. Yes, there were “discoveries” throughout the process – threads that I pulled together – but ultimately, in composing each chapter, I was mapping a particular theory onto a particular literary text in order to arrive at an interpretation of what was, really, a very limited thing. And so it wasn’t, actually, scary to look at the project as One Big Thing. I knew what I would find when I did that.
With this book project, my process has been less deliberate and a hell of a lot messier. Now, part of this has to do with the fact that I now understand, in a way that I did not in writing my dissertation/book what a “book” really is. I’ve read a lot more critical books from beginning to end, for one thing, and I also have been through the process of bringing my own book to publication. Another part of why this process has been different is because other than when I first began, during my sabbatical, I’ve had to squeeze the book into my other professional obligations piecemeal: I haven’t had the luxury of time that I had during graduate school, and I haven’t had the luxury of the kind of single-minded focus that one has during one’s graduate training. Let me note, I’m not at all complaining about this: I think it makes my ideas richer, in some ways, that I’m not so imbedded in my original field of specialization, and I think that working in this way is actually allowing me to do more interesting work (at least I have hope that this is the case) than I did in my dissertation/book.
But because I’m trying to work on the “first” chapter, I sort of need to know where I’m going to end up in the “last” chapter, if I’m writing the book I want to write, which I don’t want merely to be a a loose collection of disparate chapters around a general idea, but really a work of theoretically oriented criticism that hangs together as a cohesive and coherent whole.
And because the project has been evolving since I first pitched the topic (having done no work on the topic prior to said pitching) in my application for sabbatical in 2009, I needed to reckon with the fact that what I’ve been writing, and the ideas that I’m most interested in throughout what I’ve been writing, don’t really match what I initially had set out to do. I mean, there is a relationship – this isn’t a completely different book – but it’s not the book I’d initially thought I would write, and probably nobody but me could see clearly how the book I’m apparently writing has emerged from the idea that I originally had.
But so anyway, I faced that particular scary task, and I was able to a) write a paragraph in which I was able to articulate the three linked objectives of the book-as-a-whole, b) articulate – again in writing – the major theoretical apparatuses that I’m engaging in order to flesh out those objectives (and this was tricky as the theories I’m engaging wouldn’t necessarily seem like obvious choices to bring together), c) discover that I’m going to jettison one particular set of ideas, which are super-interesting to somebody, but which don’t actually fit with the objectives that I outlined that I am trying to