I had one of those moments earlier this week, in which I suddenly felt as though the fog had lifted and everything I’d been muddling through for the last year or so became clear. I’m really hoping that this clarity isn’t temporary — I’m hoping I’m actually onto something — but I’m extremely excited about it right now. And I’m hoping that writing about it here will help make the thing that I’m thinking a bit more real.
Here’s the backstory: for the last couple of years, as those of you who’ve been hanging around here know, I’ve been writing a good bit about the future of scholarly publishing, producing a range of blog posts, manifestos, and even a couple of full-on articles. And they’ve been exciting to produce, and they’ve led to a certain kind of awareness of my work in the field that hadn’t existed before. But I wasn’t sure how much work they were doing for me, in a long-range sense. And here’s where a kind of craven careerism creeps into my thinking about my work: I need to be working on a project of the sort that one would call a “book,” not least because the second book is pretty much key to full professordom around these parts, or if not key, then certainly something somewhere well above helpful.
But I’ve been having a couple of problems with thinking about a large second project. The first is that such a project, in a lot of ways, is diametrically opposed to the manifestos and articles I’ve been producing, all of which have been arguing about various aspects of the problem that the book poses for the future of academic discourse; to be making those arguments while working on a book has felt more than a little hypocritical, and counterproductive to my real goals for the academy. And the second is that I’ve tested out a number of different ideas for that second project, and while the one I spent the summer working on seems like it will eventually come to fruition, it’s just not evolved enough yet. And every article or manifesto I’ve written has taken time away from that big project, and has made its full evolution seem that much more remote.
So when I decided this week to reinstitute the half-hour focused morning writing sessions, I had to figure out what exactly it was I was going to work on. I’ve got an article that I’m interested in writing toward that projected next big project, but I’m really not ready to launch into it. On the other hand, I’ve got another article on the future of scholarly publishing — the peer review article I mentioned a couple of posts back — that I also want to work on, and that I have the sense could be put together fairly quickly.
So I spent the first day of morning writing blocking out that article — writing the introduction, laying out the sections, figuring out how to proceed — and was very pleased with the results. And then later in the day, while thinking about something else entirely, it suddenly hit me (and with such a force that I honestly can’t believe this hadn’t occurred to me sooner):
What if all this writing about scholarly publishing is the next “book” project?
A flood of questions followed right behind that: What would the overall argument of such a project be? How would it be structured? What pieces of such a project are already in place, and what yet needs to be figured out?
And most importantly: Is the project a book, or a “book”?
I’m pretty rapidly figuring out the answers to those questions, and I’m hoping to share some of those answers here soon. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share this much: there have been few joys in my career thus far quite comparable to the moment — and I’ve now had it on four separate occasions — of realizing that all the random stuff I was doing, often not sure why I was doing it, was adding up to something coherent, and that that something coherent could actually, possibly, be really good.