This blog takes you behind the scenes of the writing of an academic history book – like a ‘making of’ featurette. Its aim is to make visible the traditionally invisible process of what it’s like for a university academic in the Humanities to write a research monograph, i.e. a single-authored 100,00 word book.

I’m a History Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford, and the book I’m writing has a working title of The Elusive Church: Luther, Poland and the Early Reformation. This project is supported by a British Academy Mid Career Fellowship (2012-13).

On these pages, you'll find a regular 'log' of how the book is progressing, plus information about the project. I welcome your comments and thoughts - whether you're studying or teaching history at school or university, or writing non-fiction yourself...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Plan A or Plan B?

[November 2011]
From talking to colleagues and students, there seem to be basically two approaches to tackling a large piece of historical writing, like a book, doctorate or thesis. Adherents of Plan A diligently complete all the research, sit back, analyse everything, and then take a deep breath and place themselves in front of the keyboard, in order to write up the learned work in question, from start to finish. This is what I did for my doctorate (because, innocently, I couldn’t think of any other way of doing it), and if seemed to work well enough.

Followers of Plan B, by contrast, break down the research into manageable chunks, and write up each section or chapter as they go along, before moving onto the next research segment. Some of my doctoral peer-group adopted this approach, and I had simply no idea how they did it – how could you mould your material into a coherent shape, bit by sequential bit, if you didn’t yet know what the overarching frame or story holding it all together would be? With Elusive Church, however, I’ve finally been seduced by Plan B. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been mulling over the central ideas for a while, so I do have a pretty clear sense of what the main argument is going to be (whether it will survive the writing up process remains to be seen!). Maybe it’s changing context too –  perhaps a university post with lots of teaching and admin, interspersed with irregular research leave and vacations, simply forces you into a more bitty pattern of book production. Let’s see how Plan B works out...