This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time.
First of all, because it means that I’ve finished writing the first draft of my first book (bar the conclusions, ok).
Secondly, because there have been many, many, MANY instances in which I really doubted that I would get this done.
I know that writing a book is difficult, and that turning your PhD into a book is a particular kind of nightmare. That’s fine, I never thought it would be easy. But writing this book has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, way harder than the PhD or anything else. So I want to tell the story of how I’ve written this book in the past years, the struggles, and how I’ve eventually managed to write the manuscript.
This book was never meant to be. By the time I finished my PhD, I was ready to move on. I wanted to come back to the history of science/medicine, and I wrote a postdoc project that had absolutely nothing to do with my thesis. I wasn’t interested in the topic of my PhD anymore and was very excited about the new stuff. Also, I did my PhD in a very toxic environment that absolutely destroyed my academic self-confidence. So, when I arrived to Leicester and started working on my new project surrounded by amazing people, the last thing I wanted was to come back to a topic that didn’t excite me anymore and made me feel super insecure, inadequate and not good enough.
But then I met a series editor in a conference, and casually suggested me to send a proposal. Everyone told me that I would regret it one day if I didn’t publish my PhD, and everyone was on Twitter saying that a monograph was a requirement for a job. So I sent the proposal and a chapter to the press, and, obviously, it didn’t work. The readers’ reports were brutal (I’m not exaggerating: one of my colleagues has used parts of these reports in a doctoral training seminar to show how brutal reviews can get). Somehow, I pulled myself together and sent a response. The editors invited me to resubmit the material.
This was probably the best thing that could happen to the book, but not necessarily the best thing for me.
At some point, I realised that every time I came back to work on the book, the same conversation ran in my head:
“What am I doing?”
“Why am I writing this book?”
“I shouldn’t be writing this book/ Someone else should be writing this book/ I’m not good enough for this/ I don’t know enough to write this book”
“Does this book even need to exist?”
Every. Single. Time.
It was exhausting and demoralising. I didn’t want to write this book and it was giving me all sorts of bad feelings and anxiety every time I worked on it, while I was feeling perfectly fine working on the new stuff. So I seriously considered not doing it.
Eventually, I decided to go ahead. I tried (or rather, I try) to shut up the negative thoughts reminding myself that I had been through them before and I had decided that yes, the book was a valuable contribution and yes, I was the person to write it.
A year after the first proposal, I submitted a new proposal, introduction and sample chapter. This time, I made sure that one of my colleagues, who has published with the same press and is a cultural historian, read it. He loved it so I thought it would be fine. I was also actually happy with what I had written, as I had found a way to make the stuff interesting to me again.
The reports came back, and they were not that terrible. Not overtly positive, mind you (one said that it as a “unfulfilled promise” or something like that). I had another book crisis. I’m a photo historian, trying to write a book for a cultural history series. Maybe I was aiming at the wrong press? Was this the sign to stop? Did I really want to complicate my life like this, or should I just try to publish it in a photo history series? Fortunately, I had a phone conversation with the editor, who encouraged me to write a response to the reports and told me that, actually, the reports were not bad.
Okay, I wrote the response. I was very positive, I thought this was the time!
Well. Kind of.
They were happy with the response and wanted to see the full manuscript.
They didn’t mention the contract. So, basically, I had to write a book that felt like f*cking agony every time I approached it without a guarantee that it would be accepted.
Just to be clear, I’m NOT complaining about the press. They’ve been amazing and absolutely supportive throughout the years, and they’re the reason why I’ve persevered. I totally understand that they want to see the full manuscript first.
But writing chapters for a book *I think* will be published, but maybe not, hasn’t been easy. The feelings of inadequacy and not-good-enough are still there, obviously, specially as it seems that everyone else are getting book contracts (so glad for all of you, really!), and the monograph is still valued as key for an entry-level job, and I have the job but not the monograph I was supposed to have at this stage so…
But I’ve done it. I have a draft of all the chapters and the introduction. I still have a lot of work to do, but still I can’t believe I have a full draft. I thought so many times about quitting. I honestly couldn’t really picture me finishing the book. And here I am!
There’s no moral to this story. There’s not even an end, because I still have to submit it and we’ll see what the reviewers think of it. But I wanted to share it because we always see the shiny finished products but not the struggles behind. So here’s mine.