I’ve finished a first pass through all the regular chapters of the book-in-progress (in addition to those in in this progress report, there’s one more in Section 1 about antiques, and three more in Section 4, two about statistics and one about teamwork). I’m starting to do section-level proofreading, looking at blocks of chapters together.
This isn’t a step I had to go through with my previous books, for several reasons. One is just that the smaller set of responsibilities I had then made it easier to find contiguous blocks of writing time– SteelyKid was born after book 1, and The Pip after book two, and I wasn’t department chair, either. The writing of this one has been much more fragmented, mostly plugging away in three-hour chunks a couple of days a week. I hardly remember what’s in some of the chapters I wrote back at the beginning of this process.
More than that, though, these chapters turn out to be surprisingly interconnected. I say “surprisingly” because the earlier books were inherently cumulative– stuff in the later chapters depended on having read material in the earlier chapters– and I had frequent callbacks to earlier sections. More than that, though, this was conceived as a set of independent chapters, each telling a self-contained story about one particular aspect of scientific thinking. That’s the whole reason I thought I’d be able to write it in three-hour chunks two days a week, after all.
It turns out, though, that these chapters are way more interconnected than I realized going in. In fact, I suspect I may have even more “as we saw in Chapter XXX” notes here than in the previous two books. It’s really next to impossible to separate these different stories completely, and lots of common elements recur. Some of these are technical– I think I define “cosmic rays” in at least three different places– while others are procedural. There are all sorts of quirky little aspects to the historical stories I’m telling that echo back and forth between stories. And that’s just the stuff I noticed while writing it in disconnected bursts– by the time I get done going over bigger blocks, this may be the most densely cross-reference thing I’ve written.
Anyway, it’s a little ironic that writing a book that’s organized around discrete steps in the scientific process has given me a greater sense of science as a holistic thing. I’m not going to be becoming a squishy humanist any time soon, insisting on the irreducible complexity of everything as a way to avoid ever answering a question about anything, but it’s been an interesting experience.
(I’m sure that my wibbling about the writing process is utterly fascinating, but I’ve already plowed through a second draft of a TED audition talk and a full set of chapter revisions this morning, so I don’t have brain left for anything more compelling…)