On writing my new book
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Today I published a new book on this website: Little Guide to the European Union. Here I want to spend a few minutes documenting some of my thoughts on the writing experience.
My book is a curated concatenation of blog posts. There is a beginning, middle, and end to it. Chapters are like articles. Each of them can be taken out of context and still stand on its own merits. Their sequence is what matters. There is a progression to it, to engender and impart the feeling that some degree of knowledge is accumulated along the way.
I generally try to analyse complex issues, render them lucid.1 For the sake of clarity I had to set a certain order to my arguments: start with the basics and move on to the advanced issues. “Basics” and “advanced” should be interpreted in relative terms. They denote the inner relationship of the topics, not the prior knowledge a reader needs to have. For example, the chapter about the politics of the European integration process is a “basic” issue because it underlies—or is presupposed in—every other chapter.
I started thinking about this book in late December 2015. What I came up with was a slightly different approach to book-writing than what one would expect. I decided to initially produce a set of “seminars” that would, among others, offer me the pretext for researching some topics. The first seminars were published between early March to early April 2016.
To me the seminars were like drafts of some of the book’s chapters. They gave me the chance to elaborate on a few ideas and then to reflect on the end result. This helps me be critical with my thinking, single out the concepts that need refinement or further consideration and make corrections wherever necessary.
After the seminars I proceeded to actually code the book. I will not bother you with the technicalities. Read today’s codelog entry for more on that.
Once the development phase was concluded, I proceeded with the standard practice: that of preparing the outline of the book and then filling in the content.
There are two main reasons for writing the Little Guide: (1) intellectual, (2) material.
The first and the most important is my inner need to refine the products of my intellectual labour. Though I no longer write about philosophy, I very much maintain a philosophical disposition towards things. I remain inquisitive, dubitative, and dialectical.2 “Good” knowledge is not good enough, not even if it gains me accolades. When I improve my understanding of some item I write about, I need to keep a record of it. That ultimately is good both for me and for those who read my texts. I get the satisfaction of engaging with an intellectual theme and of gauging my progress. They receive my most-up-to-date opinion on the matter.
The second concerns my material condition. I am unemployed and have had an unfavourable streak of luck lately. My hope is this publication will help turn things around. It is, after all, a token of my commitment to my field of research. I could pretend that all this meticulous book-writing is only in the service of some higher value, say, the inquiry into the specifics of the book’s theme. But no. That would be a tissue of falsehoods. Concealing the actuality of my life and my day-to-day needs is just a form of hypocrisy; and hypocrisy is, among others, inconsistent with my point in the previous paragraph. I do need an okay job. Just something to keep me busy without draining the vitality out of me.
A benchmark for the future
I proceeded to write this book in an effort to improve on the content I deliver through this website. The Little Guide represents both a beginning and an end. It introduces a benchmark for evaluating my progress. What I do henceforth will have to iterate on it and be better in comparison. It also completes my transition from idealism to pragmatism while fleshing out the concomitant evolution of my thinking on EU affairs.
If I am to be strict with myself, I consider the Little Guide to the European Union to be my first book, though technically it is the second. My previous publication—A Handbook on the European Union—was more of a long opinion piece, i.e. the pretense of a book.
Writing is like sport. The more you are at it the better you get. And like sport you cannot just quit and expect to remain at your peak. In more concrete terms: I have no intention of slowing down. I write because I like it. Because I need it.
This book is my latest piece of work, though not the last. While I now think that it is important to my writing and to this website in general, I still consider it just another project.
Whether I succeed or not is another discussion altogether. ^
I use “dialectical” in the Socratic sense of not being dogmatic and of engaging with a thesis for the sake of tracing the greater truth. Granted in this case the argument may be with a previous version of myself qua author or thinker. Still, I need to be openly honest (parrhesia) and recognise an error where I see it. The downside to all this introspection and the back-and-forth is that it is not particularly welcomed by a politics-focused crowd. Many people demand ideological purity and consistency, of which I have little to none. ^