Yesterday I hit 10,000 words of the first draft of my research ethics book. That’s a huge milestone which has taken me two years to reach (though most of that was preparation – I started the actual writing earlier this year). I still have around 65,000 words to write, but having the first 10k safely on my computer and backed up is an enormous relief.
The photo shows one side of my desk, this morning. The other side looks much the same, piled high with books, some of them open and face-down to keep a place. Although I have spent two years thinking about this book, talking about it, interviewing people around the world, and reading reading reading, I am still reading – and re-reading – more than I write. So far I’ve mostly been reading books, but yesterday I started delving into journal articles, and of course there are gazillions of those to explore.
As a result, it’s taking me a full day to write 1,000 words. It feels frustrating to be building my argument so slowly, but I know it’s inevitable at this stage. I read, and think, and read, and think, and sometimes the reading and the thoughts coalesce into a sentence, and I write it down. Then I read some more, and think some more, and so on.
When I teach writing to doctoral students, they often express frustration at the slow pace of their writing. I tell them it’s common, even for experienced writers, and they look at me with sceptical faces, as if they think I’m trying to soothe their feelings rather than telling them the truth. But it is true. I’ve written a masters’ dissertation, a PhD thesis, 2.5 books, and several journal articles, and this is how it is, especially at the start of a long and difficult piece of work. I’m sure the pace of my writing will speed up later, especially when I get to the easier chapters, but for now all I can do is plod on.
Another myth is that writers start writing at the beginning and carry on until they get to the end. Unusually for me, I did draft the first chapter first, and then drafted most of the second. But I have also written 491 words of chapter 3, 60 words of chapter 6, 18 words of chapter 10 and 36 words of chapter 14. This is because, as I have been reading, I’ve come across sections that have been relevant to those chapters, and at this stage it’s easier to create a new document and write a sentence or a paragraph in there than to add to my already copious notes.
I’m doing the early chapters first, this time, because they’re the hardest. The first part of the book has five chapters of context-setting: research ethics, political ethics, institutional ethics, professional ethics, societal ethics, individual ethics, the connections between them, and case studies. The second part has nine chapters about research ethics in practice at each stage of the research process and will, I think, be much easier to write. I often counsel students to start with an easy part, whatever they most feel like writing, and have usually done so myself. This time, though, the later chapters will need to draw on the earlier chapters, so I have to write the harder part first. (Though I do start with the easiest part within each chapter.)
Luckily for me, I’m home-based for the whole of April. I have some client work to do, but I should be able to spend quite a lot of time working on the book. My aim is to get the difficult chapters drafted by the end of the month. I’ll let you know how I get on.