One of the things that I was most worried about with this new book was that Barbara and I would have run out of things to say. We have already written a lot about writing, and I’ve blogged even more. My, no our, worry was that we would be just repeating ourselves, and to the point where we would just be writing the same book over again.
As well, in the fourteen years that we have been working together, there has been a veritable explosion in writing about academic writing. What did we have to add to the plethora of stuff out there, we worried. Could we say anything different, anything that would mark this book as different not only from our other books, but also everything else?
And of course, we knew if we were just going to go over old ground, we would bore ourselves. We would really struggle to get the text done if we didn’t find a way to keep ourselves amused. If we did just produce the same-old same-old, neither we nor our publisher would be very happy.
Fortunately, these fears haven’t yet materialised. While there is a certain amount of revisiting some important topics, we have found ways to rethink and rewrite ourselves, and to riff on our basic refrains in ways that we think are fresh and interesting.
One important, and obvious, way we have achieved some novelty is through adding some new things to our usual fare, meaning we’ve removed some material too. We can do this because this new book has different intended readers, it is written for doctoral researchers not their supervisors. So, these last two days we’ve been playing around and improvising new subject matter, new ways to talk about academic writing, new strategies to suggest to doctoral researchers.
Another, perhaps more important, way that we’ve arrived at the new is by finding different examples. We always use actual doctoral writing in our books, texts produced by enrolled or recently graduated doctoral researchers. Using authentic texts is not something I do on the blog, largely because discussing actual writing extracts requires more words than I typically allow per post (and a better kind of platform, wordpress). But it is a hallmark of our books. I knew that there needed to be some new doctoral writing for this book, and I knew that we would need them in Melbourne. So I went a-hunting before I left home. In searching for examples of doctoral writing which exhibited some of the problems we had previously discussed, I came across some new combinations of problems and some new issues. So we had new data to work with, in fact. We are also using PhD blogs and a lot of online materials as resources to work with and against. So this too has led us to some new ideas.
Reinvention is something that most researchers have to do. Whether it is turning a thesis into a book, or a thesis chapter or research report into a paper, academic writers inevitably need to come up with a different angle on the same subject matter. Writing something just once is rarely an option. Academic writers often have to address the same topic several times over. It is thus really crucial for us all to take time to think about the potential difficulties in repetition, and consider very carefully how remixing ourselves might happen.
Progress report: We have now produced over 6000 words of text in two days. We’re still on track to finish the full draft in the time I’m in Melbourne.
That’s an incredible word-count for two days between you – I’m wondering whether that’s exhilerating or exhausting! I’m looking forward to hearing more about it.