I was going to do a “I have bad news and good news” thing with this but it seems like I’ve spoiled it with the title, haven’t I?
I said recently that blogging has grown a little stale, and one of my proposed ways to switch things up was writing a book. The problem was my crippling inability to commit to finishing it (celebrated at length last time). The fact that it would take time away from my normal posts, which I rely on pushing out for the regular sense of accomplishment that keeps me going, makes the problem even worse.
To get a book project of the ground I’d need a commitment device, and more free time. And guess what?
It’s worked itself out.
My modest Patreon income is valuable and I appreciate it very much, but that alone wasn’t enough to let me go part time for a while. Getting a sizeable Pluralism and Civil Exchange grant from the Mercatus Center, however, was.
With this I’ve been able to cut down on my “work” habit; I’m now on a part time leave of absence for the next year. The grant also means I’m on the hook for actually going through with it. No shirking. All they’ve actually demanded in return is a short progress report after one year, but I’m sure as hell not going to embarrass myself and flake out when they’ve gone as far as giving me money.
What will the book be like? My working title is “Popular Erisology”. It includes the branding of the “erisology” term, but the “popular” is meant to suggest that it contains my ideal candidate for new conventional wisdom among educated nonspecialists on disagreement, rather than any original research. I’m not totally satisfied with them calling it “an emerging area of study” since I’ve moved away from that kind of language. It’ll be important to set the right expectations in the introductory chapters.
I have a plan, kind of. I’ve written a lot over the last six years and in I think I can take some of that material, and with the benefit of hindsight, present it more coherently and pedagogically. It’ll be better thought out, more polished, with irrelevances cut out and recurring themes more explicitly pointed out.
Just old material?
No, I’ll write new stuff too but the major themes and ideas from the blog will form the backbone. The big project is getting it all to fit together, rewrite, fill in the blanks, and create the necessary connective tissue.
A book is different from a blog post, and different from a set of blog posts of the same combined length. You have to think a lot more about the overall shape of the journey you’re taking the reader on. I’m not worried about that, though. I have weaknesses as a writer but dealing with length, scale and structure are not among them. In fact, one of the things I find most difficult is having to “start anew” with each article idea and establish the right context and shared frame of reference. This isn’t an issue in the same way when working with the book format. I genuinely look forward to writing without having to bootstrap again every few thousand words. I honestly suspect my wordy, deliberate style works better for books than blog posts, because they need to be snappier and more attention-grabbing (and -holding).
It… might get really long if I’m not careful. I look at my first messy and still nonlinear attempts at an outline and already worry about biting off more than I can chew.
How long will it take to write? I have no idea. I’m terrible at estimating things like that. I cringe, squirm and fluster every time my boss asks me for a time estimate over more than a few hours because I honestly can’t answer and most of my brain power goes to worrying about my heart rate spiking. It certainly feels like a year is cutting it close, but on the other hand I’ve written a short book’s worth of all new material every year so far, without having regular, dedicated writing time.
Let’s see what this part-time experiment will be like.
The “bad news” I was going to lead with was that there may be less blogging going forward, since I’ll be busy with the book. But that’s only a maybe, given what I just said. I’ve got a few almost-ready pieces that I plan to finish before I start on the book properly, so at least they’re coming out. And if I find myself being more productive than I expected I might even publish as much as usual, especially if some things I write for the book work as posts (and of course there’ll be a few updates on the writing process itself).