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, 25 September 2012


As I emerge from the grant-writing storm, and am finally able to sit down and again read through religious texts from 16C Prussia, I have at least learnt that the book-writing rules which I drew up at the start of the monograph-writing are sound.

Over the past month, when writing the grant application, I broke them all systematically – I worked very long hours, in the same room without varying my environment, on the same piece of prose, without interspersing it with other kinds of work or reading, because there simply wasn’t time. My room, in Somerville’s Maitland building, began to suffer and look horribly like the scene of an undergraduate late-night essay crisis – papers everywhere, so many open books on the carpet that I could scarcely reach the door, with a nasty collection of food wrappers and old cups of take-away tea.

And it wasn’t very good for my mental faculties either. It reminded me of periods of writing my first book, when I’d worked so long and incessantly on a particular chapter, that I had become completely snow-blind to it – I had simply lost all sense of whether it was quite good or incoherent rubbish. That gnawing sense of doubt keeps driving you to rewrite it again and again, almost certainly making it a more confused piece of prose in the process.

But now my room is tidy (I’ll spare you a photo of what it looked like before), and I’m back on the monograph-writing straight and narrow, chastened and with a new respect for the rules.


  1. Greatly sympathise. I have my own set of rules for doing 'healthy academia' but a time always comes when the rules fly off into the ether. Eventually order is restored!

  2. Healthy academia is a useful concept... I'm not sure it's something we talk about enough, the fact that it's not necessarily a health-enhancing activity to sit in a library or at a laptop for years at a time, writing a thesis or book. I think the great challenge is finding a method of doing it which isn't inimical to health or sanity, but which also maximises cognitive productivity!