book writing – an occasional post

I’m up against what is now a very tight deadline. It would have been OK if I hadn’t been away from broadband for all of January when I was at home in Australia.

No wifi was an unforeseen glitch. It was largely down to the sheer inefficiency of the Australian telecommunications self-styled IT giant. Getting online involved numerous phone calls to the offshore call centre and a great deal of irritation. Even the view from my balcony (above) couldn’t get me past my crabbiness about being offline – I just couldn’t access my files. All efficiently stored on cloud before I left home in England.

And then the glorious day when I finally had access.  I decided, very unwisely as it turned out, to celebrate by updating my bibliographic software. Despite all of the information about compatibility this new version wasn’t immediately in sync with my word processing software. More delay.  More emails and phone calls to the helpline which did indeed sort out the problem but – Merde!! Double Merde!!!!! More time lost from writing.

So I did what I could, which ended up being one measly chapter, not the four I had planned.

And a structural reorganisation. I often find that my initial ideas about book structures end up not being workable. They seem all OK when I send them off to the publisher. Then I get stuck into writing and that lovely plan just doesn’t seem right. On this January occasion, I had a few goes at a new structure and ended up writing the new first chapter.

Back at home in England and I found I had committed myself to write four entirely different book chapters for other people, all due within two months. I did manage to get these done as well as a revise and resubmit. But this was another two months lost to book writing. I found time to do some necessary reading but anxiety levels about the book’s due date were now on the rise.

So here I am now, having written the drafty draft of chapter two last week, working on chapter three. I aim to have this completed by Wednesday. Take out today for administrative work and other things I must do like references and reviews and that means I am writing like stink, to put not too fine a point on it, over the next two days.

And the problem is that I think that my nicely reworked structure still isn’t right. You see, I’m pretty sure that I now know all the bits that I need for the book. I’m a bit perturbed that there is more preliminary information than I had imagined in my reworked plan, but I can’t see how to leave any of it out. And I do know my argument. I think I have all of the ducks. I’m just not confident about how to line them up.

I can’t really afford to stop cranking out draft chapters otherwise I’ll never make the deadline. So I’m proceeding thinking that at some point there will be some very serious cut and paste reorganising of what I’ve already written.

I’ve been in this position before so I’m not as perturbed as I was the first time this happened. If I wasn’t quite so concerned about the impending hand-in date I’d be able to take a bit more pleasure in the creative aspects of this not-quite-sureness.

Because that’s really what it is. You can know your argument, do all the planning in the world (all of the tiny texts and storyboards and all of the reading notes to hand, and have done some of the writing ) and still find yourself in a position where you have to do some rethinking. Ironically, in my case, I have a sneaky suspicion that the next rethink might lead me back to something remarkably like my initial book proposal. Hey ho. So it goes.

The dawning of this-structure-isn’t-working feeling can happen when writing PhDs, when writing books and when writing journal articles. If it happens to you, you can choose to plod ahead with your initial plan or stop. My feeling is that I really don’t have much option but to follow my gut reaction and see where it leads me.

Ultimately you see, writing isn’t done to a formula. Even academic writing that conforms to a genre. It’s still about what you bring to it. What you imagine.

The act of writing is always about making the best sense that you can of your material and, yes, that may change as you develop your content in depth and detail. However, most academic writing is done to a deadline so there is always the question of balancing what ideally needs to be done with what realistically can be. That’s a juggle.

And that’s me right now, juggling what needs to be done and how it needs to be written and organised in the rapidly diminishing available time.

Wish me luck.



About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, book writing, deadline, time and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to book writing – an occasional post

  1. linwinn says:

    Good luck! Your writing is inspirational. I frequently recommend you to people I am mentoring or supervising.
    I am struggling with completing a book chapter in an edited book. Each editor wants something different. I realise it resonates for me with some of my PhD experience, before it cane to fruition. There is a tension between mind and page: labour pains! I only need to convert references from Harvard to APA now but…
    Your work rate sounds phenomenal. I hope you have scheduled something pleasant to look forward to after your deadline.


  2. Liam Maloy says:

    Good luck!


  3. Elaine L says:

    Good luck, Pat! Looking forward to the book!


  4. Dear Professor Thomson, as usual a great read and an inspiration.

    The motif I often come up with is one of those people on stage, with plates spinning on tall poles. Only as a plate slows down, and is about to stop and crash, can I get to it and give it some more energy.

    So with my writing projects! Personally, I love writing; wish I had more time to do it. But slotting it in around a a plethora of other work deadlines makes it feel rather pressured.

    Some people can sit down to do a few minutes here and there; others, like me, prefer slightly longer time bursts. It’s so important to find out what works well for the individual.

    Having the IT frustrations you suffered are just “the pits”, but great that you managed a good outcome. Your video shows there’s more to life than work, too 😂

    Best wishes, and keep up the great work.


  5. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    I wish you more than luck Pat; resilience and joy in this book chapter and what ever projects that comes after.


  6. Pam Hansford says:

    Thanks, enjoyed post.
    A question, where did you find to write all this (& why) if you are so concerned about your deadlines?


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