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...

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Dear Diary

A useful new tool?

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a tiny blue note-book from WH Smith in Oxford station. This has become a book-log, a book-writing diary, where I simply write down a list of what I did on the 'Elusive Church' monograph each day. This is partly for my future self – so that when in 12 months’ time I’m tearing around Oxford again marking essays, teaching classes and giving lectures, and wonder ‘What an earth did I do with all that research leave?’, there will be a record to remind me that research (all that ‘free time’) is likewise very busy and very hard work.

The mini-diary is also there as a prop to morale, and as a diagnostic tool. When I think back over, say, a month of monograph writing, my sense of what I did turns out to be quite different to what the diary records me as having done. Entire days spent in the Bodleian, reading exciting books, seem to vanish in a flash, forgotten. What makes an impression on the memory, instead, and misleadingly, is the hour spent in a cafĂ© tearing one’s hair out over how to structure the second half of the book. So the diary can be quite cheering – the chapter which felt as if it had taken an eternity to draft had, in fact, taken only about 4 days. Which just goes to show that historians not only have to manage the actual writing of the book in hand, but also manage their own highly unreliable perceptions of how it is going. 

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