(Programming Note: new podcast episode available today, featuring an extremely interesting take on government responses to the current pandemic by an expert in emergency management)
Shelter-in-Place has coincided with my need to crank out a couple of sample chapters, ideally one introductory and one substantive, for the book I'm working on. The other people involved are suitably convinced that the idea is solid, and moving forward will require sampling the product, so to speak. With all this time and opportunity I'd love to report that I am making great progress, but.
There are two major obstacles I've come to understand with writing a nonfiction book, presuming one takes the first step of coming up with an appropriate topic. The first is research. There is always more research you could be doing. There is always one more book to read, one more article to find, one more archive to burrow into. Some people may find research difficult to do, but I find it more difficult to stop doing. There are too many Takes, too many ideas, too many directions in which a narrative or argument could go. Before you know it, the book that exists in your head is 2000 pages long and so thorough, so complicated that maybe five living people will have an interest in reading it.
I just described all academic books, for the record.
The second problem is anticipating criticism. I think I'm pretty good at looking at arguments and finding the flaws in them. But this includes my own arguments, and over time it is adding up to a kind of rhetorical paralysis. Not only does it make it hard to construct an argument without immediately backtracking to disassemble it, but it makes the entire task end up feeling kind of pointless. Everybody (whatever number of people that may be) is just going to rip the shit out of this anyway, so what's the point.
In the end, I try to focus on that last point and convince myself to plow through that inevitability if I can get paid to do it. Some days it works better than others. Today it wasn't very helpful.