Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Next Book

"Like all writers, he measured the achievements of others by what they had accomplished, asking of them that they measure him by what he envisaged or planned." (Jorge Luis Borges)

An old mentor of mine recently suggested a topic for my "next book" to me. He was being exceedingly polite. Like a number of other people, he's still waiting for my first book. Tellingly, many of them are waiting for different books. Readers of this blog are probably waiting, if they ever were and if they haven't given up hope, for RSL: The Book, which I've been "working on" for years. Readers of my other blog, might be wondering what's happening with Composure. I've also been promising to write a book about the scholarly foundations of organizational sensemaking. I have some ideas about why I can't write these books, but ideas don't cut it any longer. Books are made of words.

"To know whom to write for," said Virginia Woolf, "is to know how to write." If I don't know how to write my books it is because I don't know who will read them, or I don't know them well enough. Writers sometimes feel presumptuous when writing a book (I certainly do) and part of that presumption is that it will have readers. But more crippling is the presumption that the writer knows what the readers need to hear. Every book constructs an image of the reader, a reader who needs to be told these things. That is, a book always constructs an image of the reader's ignorance. The writer holds that image up in front of the reader and pretends it is a mirror. Like I say, that's a very presumptuous thing to do. There are plenty of books I've stopped reading because it is clear from the beginning that it wasn't written for me. I didn't see myself in the purported mirror.

I always associate this set of problems with Wayne Booth, mainly because of the great title of his book on the "ethics of fiction": The Company We Keep. A blog, it seems to me, is a very open space, one that invites people to come and go as they please. I don't feel like my readers are deeply implicated in my work or life, and I don't feel that I'm deeply implicated in theirs. (I've become complicit in a variety of projects with some of my readers, to be sure, but I hope they don't feel like they implicitly endorse the work I do here.) I'm just trying help. And if people find a post useful, that's great. But if I were to publish a book I'd be implicating myself in a community and I've lately been doing a lot of work to learn something about the varied company I might keep there.

I guess what I'm worrying about here is the age-old conundrum of "becoming an author". Doing so, I imagine, will establish a much more obvious distinction between my public and private persona. After all, if I am constructing an image of the reader, I am also constructing an image of the writer. The three books that I'm imagining so far suggest quite different personae, quite different companies. And I suppose this is what's bothering me, and what's holding me back. I have a distinct impression that this is an ethical question. Answering it will require me to sit down for an hour or three every day, for a hundred days or more, and address myself to my imagined readers. It's going to take a lot of work.


Presskorn said...

Composure, I think, has the most undefined audience. It seems, as it were, the most "personal" book of the three. Still, I am cheering for that book.

(((PS: Your blog is doing the thing, where it only shows one post & you can't scrool down to your other nuggets of wisdom...)))

Thomas said...

Yes, I'd have to be my own composed self to write that one!

(I fixed the display issue. Thanks for pointing it out. I hadn't reset it after my break.)