I have to admit, I’ve been struggling to make any sort of progress with my Darwin book this year. It’s not entirely my fault: a long-term family illness has been extremely disruptive to my schedule, making any sort of planning or protracted period of work almost impossible. But I also hit a crisis of confidence: I got to the point where I simply couldn’t work out how all my chapters were going to fit together.
Believe it or not, I saw this as an encouraging sign. Exactly the same thing happened when I was writing On the Moor. It meant I’d got to the stage where I’d started thinking of the book as a whole, rather than as a loosely assorted collection of chapters.
One problem in particular made my head spin: there were many strands to Charles Darwin’s life and work, most of them overlapping. This meant, no matter the order in which I arranged my chapters, I would inevitably end up wanting to refer in passing to events or ideas I hadn’t covered yet, but which would be covered in later chapters. This wouldn’t be a problem for readers already familiar with Darwin’s life and work, but would confuse the hell out of other people. Trying to put things into some sort of chronological order simply wouldn’t work for the type of book I have in mind—and, besides, the strands I’m referring to didn’t occur in neat, discrete packages; they tended to run alongside one another, intersecting occasionally.
It took me a ridiculous amount time to resolve my conundrum. The solution I eventually came up with proved ridiculously simple—and, I have to admit, embarrassingly obvious: why not simply include a short timeline at the start of the book to outline the key phases of Darwin’s life and work? I could then happily assume my readers would all have at least a basic familiarity with Darwin, so I would have fewer problems referring in passing to events or ideas I hadn’t covered yet. As I say, an embarrassingly obvious solution. I can’t believe how long it took me to get there!
Anyway, the good news is I’m now officially buzzing! I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking more about the book as a whole, rather than as individual chapters, and I’m starting to feel this thing might actually come together! There are still a few unwritten chapters to work on before I have a completed first draft, but I’m now thinking both at chapter- and book-level, and can’t wait to see how things progress.
Things feel very positive at the moment, which is a vast improvement on how things have felt during the first half of this year.