Week -4: The Book is Finished!

. . . and it’s away!  Shortly before midnight last night I hit send on the e-mail which delivered a full manuscript of The First Scottish Enlightenment to my editor at OUP.  Alert readers may have noticed that my actual submission deadline was the end of July rather than the end of August.  They may also have noticed my over-enthusiastic conference attendance for much of the summer.  The two combined to put me behind schedule, but after a punishing few weeks I’ve nonetheless succeeded in sending the manuscript off before teaching begins.

In the spirit of this series of blog posts – which were, at least notionally, intended to be about the process of completing a book project – I thought I’d share the academic life-lessons I’ve learnt over the last couple of weeks.  They’re all extremely obvious, especially in hindsight, but maybe that’s also why they’re worth talking about.

Pen?

VI. Never underestimate the importance of having a dedicated research assistant.

V. You don’t need to chase that citation.  Much of my time over the last few weeks has been spent in university libraries trying to chase up obscure books I thought I should probably look at and cite (anyone familiar with Aristide Joly’s 1934 Université de Paris doctoral thesis on the Duke of Perth?).  But very few of these have had any material impact on the book as a whole.  Many more or less frustrating hours could have been saved by simply accepting that it’s impossible to ever be completely exhaustive in your research.

IV. Don’t think about publication.  I’m bad about keeping my head in the present at the best of times, but I’ve been finding myself particularly side-tracked worrying about reviews, about what colleagues will think, and about what the overall reception of the book will be.  The rational part of me knows, though, that such thoughts were less than helpful in bringing this project to its conclusion.

III. Obtain image permissions well ahead of submission.  I really wish I’d done this.

II. Read your publisher’s style guide.  This is something I actually did do, but even so I found myself having to make last-minute changes due to not having read it with sufficient care.

And crucially . . .

I. Use bibliographical software and/or maintain a running bibliography.  I wrote my bibliography from scratch between Tuesday and last night – it was absolute hell.  Next time I think I’ll have a go at using EndNote or Zotero or something similar.

Despite my questionable life choices, the book is still finished!  Now time to prepare for the new semester’s teaching and begin thinking about what comes next (the answer, of course, is lots of carved stones) . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 8: A Complete Draft

I began the research project which ultimately led to this book in the summer of 2014 and had been thinking about it for a year or more before that, so it’s almost hard to believe that last week saw me write the final chapter (an unexpected addition which I only realised I needed quite late in the day) and find myself in the possession of a complete draft of The First Scottish Enlightenment.

But so it is.  Not only do I have a complete draft, but most chapters are ready to go, with only two or three needing any substantial revision and the rest just awaiting polishing, cross-referencing and general putting in order.  I’m still a bit behind schedule – all of this was meant to happen last week – but it feels like a huge achievement nonetheless.  Now I’ve begun the penultimate end-to-end read, ferreting out sections where I’ve repeated myself, or changed my mind, or thought I made sense but actually didn’t.  While I’m finding plenty to tweak, so far nothing truly awful has reared its head and occasionally I can even tolerate my prose.

Reflexive back-patting out of the way, though, I wanted to continue in the spirit of this series of posts by talking a little more about how I’ve been approaching revisions to the manuscript.  I’ve been taking it chapter by chapter, beginning with a paper copy (in which I find it far easier to catch grammatical and typographical errors).  I mark up the paper copy with any minor changes – typos, punctuation, an additional clause, etc. – and make notes of any more substantial additions in an Evernote file to return to later.  At the same time, I’ve been creating an index of where I mention key individuals, books, manuscripts, and events to avoid duplication and make sure I introduce them properly when they first appear.  Finally, I take note again of the sub-sections within the chapter and ask myself if they make sense, flow well, or need to be renamed or shuffled about.

That’s the first step – working with paper copy in hand.  Then I copy over all of my handwritten changes into the relevant Word file before working through my notes for more extensive additions or revisions, taking these one at a time, usually while ensconced in the St Andrews university library (the closest research library to home), where I can easily check references.  At this stage, I’ll also make any revisions or cutting and pasting which the index reveals to be necessary.

Once these two stages are done, each chapter is ready to be sent off to my kind and extremely patient readers.  At the same time, however, I’ve also been taking a separate set of notes on anything which may need to be returned to once the whole book has been gone through in this way: mostly cross-references, occasionally lists or tables dependent upon other chapters, and similar material.  I’ll attend to that at the end.

And that’s where I stand.  Eight weeks from my submission deadline – the end of July – and, I think, in pretty decent shape.  I like this stage of the process, the conscientous and meticulous working out of small issues, tidying of prose, and all the other things that go with revision, and look forward to seeing it through over the next couple of weeks.

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 22: Strikes and Snow

This is the first week in which I’ve fallen behind my completion schedule.  It’s all the more strange given that the week which has just gone by, on first glance, would seem to have been the ideal stretch of time in which to plow ahead with the book project.

Why?  Well, I’ve somewhat sophistically convinced myself that I can work on the book during strike days (for the strike and what it involves click here) as that will be working for myself rather than for my institution.  Whether that’s a valid argument or not is another matter, but either way it should have meant that I had three clear days of book time earlier this week.  On top of that, the “Beast fae the East” ensured that classes were cancelled on both Thursday and Friday, meaning two more days at home (in heavily snowed-in Doune – see the picture at the top of this post), which – even allowing for the need to mark student essays – ought to have helped matters along.

But I think in the end that a regular routine is more productive to writing than any number of more or less unexpected bonus days.  Somehow I’ve managed to explore the Leighton Library, sort press furniture for our home press, clean a giant pile of brass rules for the same, write a paper which ended up being canceled by snow, and do pretty much everything conceivable this week except for actually moving forward with the book.

Rules

I may not have progressed with the book, but these are now scrubbed, polished, and sorted by size.

And so, I’m now about a week behind.  With luck that will change next week: the strike is due to continue and I’ll be sitting at home with little else to do.  But this time I’ll have to knuckle down and impose a routine on these otherwise all too slippery days of strike and snow . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 25: A Chapter Down

We are currently in week 25.  I used to organise my desk journal and the other paraphernalia of scheduling by weeks of term or semester, but that’s now been supplanted by the overarching countdown of the book manuscript and, by that highly specific calendar, we are twenty-five weeks away from hand-off to OUP.

I’m now four weeks in to the completion schedule I set myself at the beginning of this year and am feeling, on the whole, pleased with its progress.  Teaching has been happening for a little while now, but I’m still managing to balance it and administrative responsibilities with ongoing book work.  Indeed, as I write I have one more chapter in the bag than I did when I began all of this in January.

So, how did that happen?  Last spring I wrote about generative writing and the ways in which I’ve used it during the present book project.  This chapter was no different.  I outlined at progressively detailed levels until I had a paragraph-by-paragraph skeleton of the chapter I wanted to produce (about 3,000 words), then over a couple of days I fleshed that out into a ~9,000 word very rough first draft.  In the subsequent week I added footnotes and tidied the style until it’s now sitting at about 12,000 words and is in a pretty decent state save that I need to check a few sources when I’m next in St Andrews.

DSCF9954

John Cockburn’s Bibliotheca Universalis (Edinburgh, 1688), one of the case studies in Scottish intellectual culture discussed in the chapter I’ve just finished.

That probably makes it all sound easy enough, but I’ve actually found this chapter quite hard.  It’s chapter one – I’m writing the book out of order – and contains about half of my attempt to intervene in Enlightenment historiography (the other half will be in the introduction).  I find that sort of heavily referential, positioning activity to be heavy work and am by no means convinced that the current draft does a sufficient job of explaining both where I sit amongst the various Israelite, Robertsonian, Pocockian, etc. interpretations of Enlightenment and how what I’m doing is different.  Mercifully, I’m now turning to chapter four (again, out of order) and what I’ve been calling the “Ancient Monarchy Debate” – the long-running critique of Scotland’s supposedly 2,000-year-old royal dynasty – which is much more comfortably antiquarian ground.

If all goes well, I should be writing another blog post, recording the successful completion of chapter four, somewhere in the last days of February or first days of March . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Scheduling the Book

I survive in academia with the help of calendars and schedules: the paper diary that used to be enough to keep me organised when I was a student has expanded into a Google calendar, an increasingly complicated desk journal, and multiple tables and Gantt charts, but the principle remains the same.  My latest schedule, though, is particularly terrifying: the schedule of finishing the book.

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 10.34.17

This is the part of my 2018 schedule I’m really looking forward to . . . .

 

On the surface of it, finishing The Book doesn’t seem too daunting.  My submission date is 31 July, I already have most of it written, and a relatively light teaching semester ahead of me.  But once you begin to break down the twenty-eight weeks between now and the end of July, things start looking tighter.  To stay on schedule I’ll need – for example – to finish the chapter I’m currently working on by 9 February and knock off the next one (which, mercifully, already exists in a partial draft) by 2 March and while four weeks seems like quite a lot, I’ll also be juggling teaching, the press, and all the other administrative and quotidian responsibilities of being a lecturer (not to mention those interfering non-scholarly activities, like buying a house).

So I’m steeling myself for a busy few months.  Packed as they’ll be, I think I’ve worked out a manageable timeline for completion and I’m looking forward, after a semester devoted almost wholly to teaching, to return to this project and see it through its final stages.  Step one: draw up a detailed plan of the chapter I’m about to write.  This is chapter one (because I’m writing out of order), an overview of Scottish intellectual culture at the end of the seventeenth century, and I’m currently putting flesh on the bones of a fairly general outline I made before Christmas.  Once I’ve worked out what I want to say, paragraph by paragraph, then I’ll turn to generative writing to produce a first draft.  Before I can do that, though, I want to reread and refresh my memory of a couple of key texts (the seminal works by Clare Jackson and Hugh Ouston on this period) and review my notes towards the chapter, some of which were taken three or four years ago and almost certainly contain material which has long since escaped my mind.

Evernote and my increasingly well-worn copy of Restoration Scotland beckon . . . .

 

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Research Days

The autumn semester has begun in Stirling and while I continue to work on the book project, it’s now being juggled alongside teaching, admin, organising a research seminar, coordinating my division’s presence at university open days, printing, and all of the other duties that go to make up a semester’s workload.  Stirling, to do it justice, encourages us to keep our research and writing on track during the semester by setting aside one day a week as a “research day” in which we stay away from the office and try to achieve something other than writing lectures or marking papers.  That’s easier said than done and in the process I’ve found myself thinking more about the nature of the time we spend on individual research and writing.

research stock photo

Stock photos are inherently funny and odd, but I particularly like the grim melodrama of this one, found while idly searching on the keyword “research” at pexels.com.

There’s no doubt that I work more efficiently when my time is limited.  Even though I think I became more diligent and organised about managing myself between the doctorate and post-doc, the wide open landscapes of the latter still meant that I didn’t need to feel too guilty about checking my e-mail or going out for a coffee or any of the other procrastinations that can fill up one’s time.  Now that research rubs shoulders with so many other responsibilities, though, the temptation to have that sort of leisurely progression through a working day is much less.  I was reminded of this on Friday – my first “research day” of the new term – when I realised I’d been working almost without break all day on a single project; I was so caught up in the pleasure of actually having the time to think that I’d hardly noticed the hours go by.

But there’s also a problem with assuming we can turn this sort of work on and off like a light-switch.  One of the biggest difficulties I find in keeping up with research during the semester is not so much keeping the time protected (though that’s a challenge in itself) as it is picking up the threads where I left off the previous week.  There’s a flow you can get into when you’re working day after day on a single project and it’s that flow and the consequent feeling of having all the ideas and sources and quotes you need ready and waiting at your fingertips that I miss on coming back to a piece of work that’s sat cold on my desk since the previous week.

Still, some research is better than no research, especially when a major submission deadline is looming just over the horizon (I’ve promised to get my final manuscript to OUP by the spring of next year).  So I’ll take what I can get and keep plugging away at chapter nine in the hopes of having it and maybe also the introduction finished by Christmas.  It remains to be seen if my eleven or so remaining research days this semester are enough time and mental space to make that happen . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

On Generative Writing

Almost a month ago, I talked about planning my summer writing goals and, especially, the book chapter I wanted to write first: a look at the reception of French archival and textual theories in early Enlightenment Scotland. I finished a first draft of that chapter earlier today and thought that now might be a good time – in line with my longer-term intention of documenting the writing process – to say something about how I got from point A to point B.

As with most research and writing innovations, it was The Historian who introduced me to generative writing. The idea is very simple: do your very best to throw away any desire to edit, footnote, tidy, or reflect on your writing as you go and just hammer out the words at breakneck speed. In reality, of course, it’s a little more complicated and there’s quite a lot of literature on the internet about different variations of the method (you can see some of these here, here, and here). Most academic contexts for generative writing seem to be along the lines of a one or two hour group writing session, but when The Historian participated in a “Thesis Boot Camp” for doctoral students at St Andrews in which their goal was to write 20,000 words over three days I decided I’d give it a go as well. To my immense surprise, I finished the long weekend with two draft chapters in hand and ever since I’ve used the technique as a means of getting myself through the initial draft.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 15.56.32

Egregious picture: It was lack of funds rather than lack of generative writing which stopped Anderson from producing his Diplomata on time (courtesy National Library of Scotland).

That doesn’t just mean starting with a blank page and ending with 10,000 words, though. For this chapter, as for others, I started with a general idea of the topic in hand (in this case, a chapter about the reception of French diplomatic scholarship in Scotland). Then I asked myself some basic questions about the chapter, borrowed ultimately from the writing pedagogy of Dr. Peta Freestone: What are the main points it needs to cover? What resources and/or evidence will I need to draw on to demonstrate these points and convince my reader? And how does this chapter relate to my overall argument? To those basic questions I also added the additional query of “who does this chapter introduce?” One of the pleasures and challenges of writing this book has been in helping my (notional) readers to get to know a host of obscure Scottish thinkers of the early eighteenth century and I’ve been doing my best to make that happen in an orderly and non-confusing fashion. Once I’d answered those questions to my satisfaction, I started working on an outline of the chapter. This went through about three iterations, each more detailed than the last, until earlier this week I had in hand a 1,500 word or so paragraph-by-paragraph outline of what I wanted to say. It was only then that I began to write.

Like quite a lot of other people who take this approach, I try to structure my writing time using the Pomodoro technique. Its effectively a way of making sure you work hard while still pacing yourself, a bit like setting a sustainable rating in a long-distance rowing race. The idea is that you work – focusing your entire mind on the matter at hand – for twenty-five minutes, take a break for five minutes, work for another twenty-five minutes, another five minute break, and so on until you’ve done a full “set” of four pomodoros (pomodori?), four twenty-five minute rounds. When I’ve prepared properly, I can pretty consistently write about 650 words in the course of one pomodoro, so going into a piece of work it’s relatively easy to figure out how much time I need to set aside. In this case, though, I actually over-budgeted on time, anticipating the chapter would take twelve pomodoros when it only came out to nine.

And that’s more or less that. I now have about 9,800 words, making a complete first draft of this chapter. It’s a mess, to be sure – full of place holders, notes saying “[CHECK THIS]”, tags indicating that I need to come back and flesh out a particular point in more detail, almost no footnotes, etc. – but it’s also something to work with, and I find that’s the most important thing. I’ll let it sit for a couple of weeks before I begin revising it and if I manage to keep to schedule by then I’ll have started work on the next chapter. Ever closer to a complete draft . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams