I reached a milestone in my post-PhD life this week, I finally submitted a book proposal to a university press. The proposal took ages, partly because the first press I chose to pitch to requires a very detailed proposal. Some presses just ask for a short summary of the proposed book, often followed up with a sample chapter. But to pitch to my favoured press, I had to write detailed summaries of each chapter, and more. I think this worked in my favour though, because it made me think hard about my argument and narrative, and how I would unfold those over the course of the book.
I also want to include a literature review in the book. I started out doing a lit review for my own purposes as I had a hunch about where I think the scholarship in the field should be heading, but wanted to assure myself that this argument makes sense, and that I’m right to say ‘no-one in the field is already doing this’. Cue a multi-week review of the literature. I now have a spreadsheet with a line for each 80+ publication in the field, including history and literary scholarship, in the English language, and covering Irish involvement across the Caribbean from the early modern era to about 1840. I also have a long roll of paper with my notes on how the field has progressed over the years.
There was more literature than I thought. Unfortunately though, most of it is behind the academic paywall. It’s either journal articles or chapters in edited collections. These collections are usually published by academic presses and the books are outrageously expensive, including this one that I contributed to. To access the articles and these edited collections, you really need access to a University library. There are a few monographs out there, but you need to know what you’re looking for to find them.
Literature reviews usually belong in theses, to show you’ve read widely and understand your field and to describe where your own work fits. But a comprehensive review hasn’t been published in my field, ever, and it’s a useful way of understanding the trajectory of the field. We’ll see whether my prospective publisher agrees to including a review in the introduction.
For advice on writing a lit review, visit Pat Thomson’s blog here.
Parents out there, and maybe some younger readers, will recognise this line: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, Oh no! we’ve got to go through it!” The line has been going around and around in my mind the past couple of weeks. On a global scale, my challenges are miniscule – but nonetheless they have ebbed away at my steady PhD research-and-writing habits so that I find myself almost entirely out of the way of working now. I can’t quite believe I’ve let it get to this stage. I really need to get words on the page. I find myself forcing my way through excuses – I’ve just got to go through it. I wish I could summon up the energy and drive I had as I studied for all those law exams so many years ago – I remember making clear sacrifices back then (not going to footy matches for a few weeks before exams, not going out on Friday nights – I remember those ones!), but I now find making sacrifices very very hard. I’ve just got to go through it.
My aim by the beginning of December is to finish my draft introduction and literature review, and a second chapter on plantation/merchant life which I’ve almost finished researching. Perhaps putting that aim in writing on this blog will impel me towards the finish line! I really want to have some proper, guilt-free time off over Summer.
I’ll end this post with a quote I heard from Ira Glass on the Happier podcast this week. This hints at the “we’ve got to go through it” sentiment, but with a positive promise of better things to come…
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”