A blog about governance for urban sustainability and resilience
Writing is hard work. It is. For a long time I thought it was not. But I was wrong. Very much so. I have only begun to realise how hard through the two books I’m writing now.
At the outset it appeared all easy: I have a topic that is new enough to write something about, but not so new that it can’t be placed in a body of literature. I have already published a number of articles on the topic that help shape the larger narratives of the books. And I have a lot of data—over 200 interviews and documents on over 60 innovative governance instruments for urban sustainability from six countries.
That is where I went wrong: With so much data on so many different governance instruments it is all but easy to write a narrative that makes sense. When looking closely at the individual instruments they all have something interesting to tell, they all have a quirky thing I like to share, they all contribute to a larger pattern that I see. But that was some months ago, when I was still high on the ease of getting the last book out. It was before I realised that getting a single narrative out of all that information is a great deal of work.
Gone is the naivety. From now on I will tell the story told by everyone else: Writing is hard, and I don’t envy you if you are at the start of a book project—I don’t envy you if you’re halfway, and I don’t even envy you if you’re almost done. But realising that writing actually is hard—which people have told me for a long time—I now wonder: Why don’t we teach our students how to write? Or at least, why don’t we teach them that writing is hard? No-one ever told me how to write—well, not since high-school. I don’t have the answer to these questions. Sorry.
But, I do have some ideas on how we can help out each other—and particularly our students—a little. I’ve recently begun to read books on writing, and I think every writing academic should. They are good for two things: Confirmation that writing is hard—so hard that people actually bother writing books about it. And they come with helpful tips on how to improve your writing, and your attitude to writing—so let’s share our favourite books-on-writing-books. The ones I have read so far are (in order of reading):
That’s it. These are the first books I’ve ever read on how to write. You clearly won’t need to read these if you want to get published—I’ve managed to get a fair bit out without them—and they will not do magic to your writing, but I wish I had read them years ago. If only for confidence—and for my now golden mantra for the hours that I block for writing: Shut up, and write.
As a Ps: Gary Smailes from BubbleCow (the copy-editor of my book Governance for Urban Sustainability and Resilience) has also recently written a blog post that discusses books on writing: The Ultimate List of Books About Writing