This blog takes you behind the scenes of the writing of an academic history book – like a ‘making of’ featurette. Its aim is to make visible the traditionally invisible process of what it’s like for a university academic in the Humanities to write a research monograph, i.e. a single-authored 100,00 word book.

I’m a History Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford, and the book I’m writing has a working title of The Elusive Church: Luther, Poland and the Early Reformation. This project is supported by a British Academy Mid Career Fellowship (2012-13).

On these pages, you'll find a regular 'log' of how the book is progressing, plus information about the project. I welcome your comments and thoughts - whether you're studying or teaching history at school or university, or writing non-fiction yourself...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Analysis and Iteration

Caution: Analysis in progress

I was once employed as a research assistant for the Social Policy professor Jane Lewis, one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever worked with, and she gave me some advice about writing. She said that people tend to assume, wrongly, there are 2 stages to academic writing -research, and writing up – whereas there is an oft-omitted extra stage which comes in the middle: research, analysis, writing up.

I’ve never yet managed to follow that advice in a linear way. My own approach has always been far more iterative (perhaps not very efficiently so). I tend to skip back and forth, repeating those 3 steps again and again – research, analysis, some more research, write a bit, read some more, finish the draft, think about it, read some more, redraft etc. etc. 

In fact, it often feels as if the real analysis, and most important thinking, can only happen after the writing up, once I have a decent first draft of in front of me. This week, for example, I spent three unbroken hours at my college desk reading the current draft of Chapter 2, annotating it, writing notes to myself on which paragraphs to move around, drawing little diagrams of how the argument fits together. It’s only with this panoramic view of the material assembled in front of me, that I can begin to see the shape of the final, crystallised argument, and how to get to it – like a vision on the horizon. So, in some sense, analysis comes at the end, and then the real work begins.

This kind of review-analysis, when it goes well, is for me one of the most enjoyable bits of book writing – the mental patter of things falling into place. But when it goes badly, the gremlins come out!

No comments:

Post a Comment