I’m writing a book.
There, I’ve said it. Now I’m going to have to follow through, if everyone knows. Right? I managed to get tenure without writing a book, even though I had every intention of revising my dissertation into one. One awful day I found a new book that seemed to replicate 80% of what I’d written, threw both it and my dissertation across the office, cried and cried, and gave up. I wrote a bunch of article and book chapters, and learned to be comfortable in that mode of writing and publication.
In fact, I’m finishing off a 6000 word piece right now, and it’s been pretty painless. But now I’ve decided the next thing will be a book.
I’m scared of the usual things, like getting rejected (bad) or getting scooped (worse). I’m scared of doing it poorly, and I’m scared of missing something important that exposes my stupidity. I’m scared of the sheer volume of writing, the organizational nightmares of printouts and research notes, and interlibrary loans, and lost citations, and detail work.
What I’m most scared of, though, is this: the selfishness of writing.
Writing my dissertation was like an intense, overwhelming romantic entanglement. My dissertation and I spent nearly every waking minute together, and in our moments of separation, it was what I thought about. My whole conversation was dissertation. My whole schedule, hell, my whole apartment was dissertation from top to bottom. I have, from that period, a lot of pictures of my cat, ensnarled in piles of printouts, batting coloured paper clips around in kittenish fashion. My life was like this: get up when feeling rested, eat oatmeal and make latte, walk 10 feet over to computer, work until tired, take long walk to refresh brain, eat lunch, work until tired, have nap, wake up around 4 and work until 7, do stuff that makes the writing go away until tired, go to bed, repeat. Even the non-writing tasks are just designed to facilitate the writing. When the writing is able to come, everything else shifts over.
It’s hugely selfish. And that’s not a kind of life my life supports right now; it’s not the kind of life I want to be living.
For me, service work can be picked up or put down in five minute increments. Teaching prep and grading and such, too, while interesting and important, is not engrossing in the way that writing is. Even writing articles is exponentially less intense than book-format writing and thinking. It’s the difference between juggling beanbags and juggling bean fields: the sheer scale of the thing requires herculean increases in both strength and focus.
When I’m really writing, I don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t want to cook supper because someone else is hungry. I don’t want to do laundry until I run out of underwear. I don’t want to shop for groceries. I don’t want to get out of bed while I’m still groggy. Or shower so that we can then run the dishwasher. I don’t want to put my printouts somewhere out of sight.
I turn into a jackass, really. And I don’t want to do that. But I do want to write the book I feel is kind of asking me to write it.
I have no experience of long format academic writing that doesn’t burn up everything in my life except the writing. I don’t know how to be reasonable and write like that. How to have balance while juggling those bean fields.
Do you know how? Do you have any advice? Because I’m not sure how to do my best writing and thinking, and still live my life with the kind of balance and joy of family I’ve come to enjoy.