If you are a student of English literature then you will be very familiar with the paratext and the hypotext. A hypotext is an early text that serves as a source for a later one. Homer’s Odyssey was the hypotext for the film “O Brother where art thou?” A paratext by contrast includes book blurbs, dedications, endnotes and footnotes, prefaces and forewords – the paratext is something that frames and thus shapes the way in which the reader encounters the main text.
Barbara and I have just had to write a paratext, the blurb that goes on the back cover of our book. We’ve done it, but not without a lot of groaning and sighing on my part.
Writing this kind of thing brings out the reluctant writer in me. While I’m happy to state plainly what’s in the book, I really don’t want to have to sell it by saying how “new, novel outstanding, exemplary, exciting indispensable” and so on it is. But I know it has to be done.
The only way I can do this kind of writing is by doing it fast and not thinking too much about it. Writing something vaguely distasteful requires rapid response. Speed works as a kind of embarrassment bypass. If I think about the text too much, then I won’t write anything at all. I’ll just stall.
This “icky” writing is such a contrast to the other writing I’m doing at the moment. I’ve managed to carve out an entire month over summer in order to put together a methods book. I’m writing this one with my colleague Chris Hall and I’ve taken on the job of doing a first draft.
As with my other books, I’m not approaching this one cold. I’ve been preparing for it for some time and I have quite a few bits and pieces written. The chunks and pieces aren’t yet put together in any coherent way. So my job over this month is to start at the beginning and write through chapter by chapter at the rate of about two a week, about three thousand or so words a day, incorporating the existing material. I do have to keep reminding myself it is actually less than that, because some of the writing does already exist. Just not in the right order or shape.
So I’m writing each morning starting somewhere between 7 and 8 and then going till somewhere between 12 30 and 2, depending on how it’s going. This was exactly the routine I had when I wrote my PhD and I’m surprised how easy it is to get back into the rhythm. Despite the obvious time pressure, it feels surprisingly leisurely. I think that this is because I have also largely got the afternoons set aside as well.
Apart from the occasional meeting or tutorial that is. But generally, formost of the month I’m able to spend a bit of time in the afternoon digging out what’s needed for the next day.
Better still, my brain benefits from the additional time away from the keyboard. Things that I ought to have put into the chapter, things that might need to be hedged or reworded, these all just seem to float into my mind during the afternoons. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m reading a novel, washing, weeding or just catching up on some naughty television, thoughts just turn up in my conscious mind, without a formal invitation.
The sudden exclamations that accompany these unexpected, but welcome thoughts, often worry my dogs.
I’m clearly deeply immersed in this book, so much so that I’m even finding it a bit of an unnecessary distraction to write blog posts. However I do feel a bit like a real writer.
Every day I write. That must make me a writer, of sorts anyway.
The feeling and the time won’t last of course, as there’ll soon be conferences, a lot more meetings and some teaching. But really I am enjoying it a lot right now.
It’s not a binge folks, it’s a complete luxurious treat!