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...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


Photo by Yvo Waldmeir

A newspaper column I was reading recently said that parenthood is all about learning to manage your terror, but I think that’s also true of book writing. The terror, specifically, is the little voice which whispers that you’ll never finish it, and that it’s unfinishable. I imagine this is a common gremlin…

In the case of Elusive Church, at these very early stages this is, at present (happily), still a largely irrational worry. The writing is on schedule, the schedule itself seems reasonably realistic, and there are a full 15 months to go before the deadline, i.e. conclusion of the British Academy grant. Nonetheless, it can be hard to keep sight of all that if you feel that you’ve been stuck in 1520s’ Danzig (Chapter 2) for weeks and weeks, writing, following up new leads, rereading key documents etc. There is a now a draft of Chapter 2, but it can’t take on a definitive or final form until most of the other chapters are written, and the argument hammered firmly into shape. It’s therefore done (it physically exists!) but also not done.

To boost my morale, therefore, I’ve decided not to press on to Chapter 3, which promises to be just as thorny and overloaded with sources. Instead, I’ll skip ahead to tackle Chapter  5, which at this point I innocently think will be relatively straightforward and blessedly short. These are the little tricks I at least have to play on myself – if I can produce a set of coherent prose entitled ‘Chapter 5’ by the end of the month, and have it sitting neatly printed and paperclipped on my desk, it will make it much easier to manage my book terror… at least, say, for this summer.

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