I am writing my first book. This means I am returning to my doctoral thesis to pull out the bits that will go towards this new publication (2 of 4 chapters and bits and pieces of the Introduction). I am at that stage where I am see-sawing between joyfully bounding into a project that I have been looking forward to for years and procrastinating by googling articles about the process of writing a monograph. One of the more useful ones can be found here. It simply reminded me of things I had not even considered, like the importance of writing a good cover-copy, and the sheer amount of editing that falls on the author since most publishers do not provide copy-editing, proofreading and indexing services. This means you either do it all yourself, beg colleagues and friends to volunteer their proofreading skills, or hire a professional to pitch in. For now though, it’s just me and my old manuscript, a highlighter, and a fresh view of my work.
Stephen King states that “to write is human, to edit is divine.” In its original context, this phrase is meant as a health warning for any writer who may consider ignoring their editor’s advice. It’s a little more complicated when you have to function as your own editor. However, I am enjoying the process more than I thought I would. Removing those footnotes originally written as signposts to the examiners that you really, really know what you’re talking about is every bit as satisfying as a bursting a particularly angry pimple. Hacking and splicing up chapters and sections, experimenting with new formats and structures makes me feel like a mad scientist in the best way possible. I had feared that editing these chapters into book form would feel more like taking them out of one box and shoving them into another. It is far more freeing than that. While I have a long way to go before I have a fully drafted manuscript, I can offer the following advice to researchers about to begin their first book project:
- Take a long break from the thesis before you get started. It goes with out seeing that fresh eyes are best when it comes to editing. My external examiner told me that she didn’t return to her thesis for several years after she finished. Her advice to me was to give it at least a year. Then go at it as objectively as possible with a highlighter, a red pen, and a plan.
- Be brutal. Chop it up, move things around, and play with new structures. The work is already there so you can’t exactly break it.
- Relish the removal of all those “Examiner signposts.” You proved yourself in your Viva. You are not writing your book to make the right grade. You are writing your book to be read. There are a few key moments after the PhD that cement the fact that you are finished, like when a letter arrives with “Dr” before your name. This is one of those moments.
- Ask for advice. While every project is different, get advice from your colleagues and peers. Just because you ask does not mean you have to use. Some advice may not seem immediately useful, but may become relevant as your project develops.
On that note, I’d like to collect some of the most useful advice out there! Please comment below with hints and tips, share links to useful articles.