Starting Over
Starting Over

Starting Over

Returning to a writing project you’ve had on the back burner for a few years is a frustrating experience. Working on the edition of the cartulary of Prémontré required a hefty commitment of time and focus, and I had to put my plans for a monograph on women and their involvement with the medieval Premonstratensian Order in the High Middle Ages to one side. Now that the cartulary project is done (and even published!), I’m able to go back to the first book project, and fortunate enough to have a sabbatical to devote to working on it.

The major problem that I’m facing into now is that it’s been so long since I’ve been able to think about this project in any sustained way that I’ve forgotten any sense of precision I once had about where I was going with it. How exactly was I planning to link various things together? Just what important, new-to-me information is buried within all those hundreds, if not thousands, of pdfs and document photographs I’ve amassed over the years? It’s honestly a bit hazy.

Plus, re-reading the parts of the draft I had written so far makes me realise just how much some of my thinking has shifted in recent years in light of further reading and research on my part. I wouldn’t approach some of my primary sources in quite the same way now; my understanding of some broader comparative contexts is stronger.

And so what I once thought my project was is probably not what my project is anymore.

Tossing out the outline that I previously had for the monograph is unnerving—but I suppose in a way it also has the potential to be freeing. I can of course re-use some of what I had already written. But in “starting over”, I’m getting to find out who I am as a historian and as a thinker now, on the far side of the tenure process and with several more years of research experience under my belt than I had as a newly minted Ph.D. That’s a positive, I think.

I’ve got a planner, a large sheet of paper with a road map scribbled on it, and some nice new notebooks. (The National Gallery of Ireland is where I got my latest one; it always has a tempting line of notebooks.) I’ve also joined an online writing group for academics for some week-by-week accountability, and I have the prospect of copious cups of Irish tea ahead of me. I guess now there’s nothing for it but to get to work. Wish me luck!

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