Objective 1.1: Your Book, An Overview

Objective 1.1: Your Book, An Overview

Objective 1.1 Purpose

Over the course of Phase I, we will telescope between different layers of your book. This objective’s activities focus squarely on the book level and guide you in cultivating “double vision” for your project. You’ll see it both as a collection of ideas that do work within your discipline and as an intellectual object whose features (evidence, framing, organizing principle, discipline) dictate the type of work it can do.

Time Investment

Expect to spend 2–3 hours on this objective. Do not spend more than 4 hours on this objective. Remember that this curriculum is iterative, so work quickly and move on, even if you’re not 100% satisfied with what you produce. If necessary, pretend that you have a non-negotiable meeting with me by the end of this week (or tomorrow, if following the accelerated work plan) and you must submit your work to receive feedback.

Common Stumbling Blocks

Let’s go over a few common difficulties book authors encounter in Phase I as a whole and in Objective 1.1 in particular.

Writing too much.

This Phase I curriculum intentionally limits your writing to force you to distill and prioritize your ideas, which in turn will guide you to produce a more coherent book.

Aiming for perfection.

The Phase I curriculum is iterative, so you will revisit and refine the material you produce here later in Phase I. Aim to get your documents 80% accurate. Do not spend more than 90 minutes on Objective 1.1.

Incorrectly identifying your book’s framing.

Consciously or not, many authors of first books have internalized an erroneous belief: that scholarly monographs must make grand claims that permanently revolutionize their field. Put the opposite way, they believe that it is not enough for a book to merely make claims about the corpus under consideration, even if those claims have broader implications. As a result, they put enormous pressure on themselves to figure out “their big intervention” and always find their book falling short of this benchmark. This objective helps you unpack that belief by showing you that it is absolutely acceptable for your book to teach lessons about its corpus first and to lay out the broader implications of those lessons second.

Reluctance to admit the modesty of the claims you can make based on your evidence.

This stumbling block relates directly to the previous one. Many first book authors are reluctant to admit that the claims they can reasonably make based on their evidence are more modest than they think a book’s claims “should be.” Keep in mind, though, that if you ask yourself challenging questions now about the limits of the claims you can make given your evidence, you will eventually produce a much stronger and more convincing book. Moreover, identifying these limits will ensure that you represent the book accurately to potential publishers.

Treating the activities as confirmatory rather than exploratory.

Remember that Phase I is designed to challenge you to ask difficult questions about your book and reshape it in ways that do justice to your ideas. As one boot camper put it: “We study our books like scientific objects.” To do so successfully, you will need to approach your book (and these activities) with the right mindset: hold your current understanding of your book lightly, view your book project through the lens of curiosity, and be willing to interrogate many of the assumptions you have made (knowingly or not) about your book. Those who think they already “know everything” about their book and want Phase I to merely confirm this knowledge tend to overlook serious flaws in their book’s overall premise or structure. Those who approach Phase I in an exploratory mode, in contrast, tend to make choices that, while sometimes painful or difficult, produce stronger and more coherent books in the end.

Common Discoveries in Objective 1.1

Completing each objective will give you new insight into different aspects of your book. Here are common discoveries authors of first books experience at this point:

You gain a more “objective” view of your book.

This will likely be one of the first times you see your book with a relatively objective lens.

You discover that your book’s main purpose is to make claims about its corpus, and that’s OK.

If reading the stumbling block about framing resonates with you, you will likely find that this objective allows you—perhaps for the first time—to accept that while your book has implications that extend beyond the corpus you study, its main work is to make claims about that corpus. Remember: this is perfectly acceptable for monographs—especially first ones!

You gain new insight into the relationship between the claims you can make in a piece of writing, the questions you can ask, and the evidence you have.

You likely know about this relationship intuitively, but you will find that this objective, by forcing you to articulate it, helps you understand it more viscerally and concretely.