Starting Again, Again

I have been working for the last year-ish on a new long-form writing project. The project is proceeding slowly, mostly because of time limitations.1 But it is proceeding, which is something I need to remind myself of right now.

I need the reminder because I am in the process of trying to produce a project overview, which is something I thought I’d already done. I kind of did; I started the project by producing what I thought of as a proto-prospectus, which I shared with a few friends for comment. I then wrote and delivered a talk that might serve as a first draft of an introduction to the project as a whole, and this summer I dove into work on one of the project’s central chapters. So I’ve managed to produce a fair bit of material, which is great.

But somehow the existence of that material is getting in the way of my ability to describe this project formally. My proto-prospectus feels far too informal and ill-formed; my draft introduction gets far too caught in the narrative weeds; the central chapter… well, it’s only about a third done, and in part because I felt like I’d lost the thread of the work the chapter was supposed to be doing. So if I’m going to produce the project overview I need, it’s going to require me to put everything I’ve already done aside and start fresh, in a blank document, telling the project’s story as best I can.

It occurred to me this morning that perhaps one of the reasons I feel such difficulty maintaining a grasp on this project and its through-line is that I haven’t been talking about it much — or here, frankly at all — and so haven’t worked out its points in dialogue with friends. I’ve avoided that in part because it just felt too early, and thus too risky, to go public with these ideas.

But I’m having to remind myself that Planned Obsolescence did not begin its life as a book project. Long before it began to take that shape, I did a lot of thinking-out-loud on this blog; it was only much later that the various pieces began to coalesce as something larger than what they’d been.

I’m not sure why I expected things to be different this time. Perhaps because I’m now advanced enough in my career that I figured I should know how to do this in a more systematic, more conventional, more independent way. Or perhaps there is something embedded in that seniority that has made me if not exactly risk-averse then perhaps nervous about showing uncertainty in public.

I should know better. A willingness to show that uncertainty is not only a key part of the scholarly process in which I want to engage, it’s a cornerstone of the argument I’m trying to make.

It’s not entirely a surprise that I’m having to learn this lesson again; this blog is filled with instances of me relearning and remembering and trying to remind myself of things I’d somehow managed to forget. But here I am, again, reminding myself, again, of the purposes that this space has served for me for the last fourteen years.

I’m starting again, again, both in this space and on this project. And I will hope for the opportunity to talk with you about the ideas I’m working on in the weeks ahead.

  1. One thing I’m finding particularly frustrating about these time limitations is that it’s not just about writing time. I know how to carve up a writing project so that it can be accomplished in very small bits of time here and there, and I can be quite disciplined about carving out those very small bits of time from my days. The real problem is research, which is much harder to accomplish half an hour at a time. And I have piles and piles of research to do.

3 thoughts on “Starting Again, Again

  1. SO true about the difficulty of finding time for research! Also, hilarious that that point is a footnote. 🙂

    I devoured Boice’s _Advice for New Faculty Members_ back in the day, and he was very much about breaking up writing tasks into small chunks, but he never once addressed this exact problem. I suppose technically one could break up research into chunks: produce a bibliography, then read one article or book chapter every morning and take notes on it, say. Even that would take at least an hour, surely. And then, even with good note-taking, it’s just hard to get your brain to switch into that mode.

    Anyway, looking forward to hearing more about the project here. Let’s party like it’s 2009!

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