Five things I learned while editing my thesis into a book

It has been some time now since I published the posts on writing your book proposal for an academic book coming out of your thesis (see also this and this). I promised at the time I would keep people updated with how that process went, but to be honest, just finding time to work on the book was hard enough.

So here’s five random things I learned while editing my thesis into a book.

  1. Most of my editing just involved removing the words ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, ‘it seems that…’ and replacing with a more authoritative equivalent. This wasn’t a special strategy I picked up, but just that things I suspected five years ago I now know for sure!

  2. Long lists of references seem unnecessary. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m more sure of myself as above (‘everyone knows that, why do I need five references to support?’) or because there are no examiners requiring me to prove I’ve read enough. More likely: it’s much nicer to read a sentence without a trazillion references inserted throughout.

  3. Thinking about doing cutting and editing is always worse than doing cutting and editing. I would put off difficult changes for weeks before doing them, but in the end, they all went well. Most of the cutting was ‘thesis-type stuff’ that seems unnecessary for a book. Like excruciatingly detailed discussions of my fieldwork. At this stage, I’ve cut around 14,000 words to bring it down to 86,000. Still got a way to go here in the next four days or so.

  4. I am motivated by my potential readers. When I lost motivation, it was because I believed no one would read my book anyway, so what was the point. The solution? I asked specific people to read bits of it and made little deadlines to give it to them. Some of these people are other writers who can give feedback, but some are the kind of people I would want to read the book who might have some thoughts on whether it was understandable.

  5. How I feel about my book really affected my ability to work on it. I could see myself doing this but couldn’t really stop it. Again, the solution was to surround myself with some encouraging people whose opinions I trust, who repeatedly told me it was worth it. I tried to remind myself of what they said as I dragged myself through rounds of revisions. I kept a ‘happy file’ of emails and drafts that had encouraging comments on them. (Really. I actually did that. I read some today). Related to this, I learned that dissociating from your writing does seem to happen to a lot of people near the end of a big project. When I’m not feeling down about it, I’m kind of dissociated. I read it, I understand it, but I am no longer attached to it in the way I was when I first drafted it.

Well, people, that’s where I am tonight, about four days out from completion. The metaphor has been overused, but it really is like being at the end of a long pregnancy, and the ongoing discomfort of being heavily pregnant starts to reduce the fear of giving birth — you stop caring how painful it might be, you just want that baby out of there!

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