Open writing and the integrity of the book
This is the last of my reflections on the book writing process, for now anyway, so you can all stand down now.
In this post I want to explore a bit of the tension between being generally open and the book as artifact. I have blogged small sections of the book as I have gone along, and also parts of the book are based on existing posts. I have wondered whether this open pre-publication approach will undermine the book itself. In an earlier post I mentioned how the book could be seen as being one element in a wider set of resources, and how my online network had been so valuable in the writing process. So I'm aware of the benefits of this way of working, but there may be a downside too.
Here are some of my concerns, or questions:
The loss of the gestalt effect – people may feel they have got all of the main ideas from the various posts over the years, and therefore not feel a need to read the book. This may well be the case, but I feel there is a Gestalt effect with most books (and hopefully mine), that comes from reading a sustained argument with different themes and evidence. That's kind of the point of writing a book, it is more than the sum of it's chapters. So this may be lost by having shared bits and pieces prior to the book itself.
Over-familiarity – sharing some of the main sections and ideas prior to the book publication may mean that when people come to read it they dismiss it along the lines of 'there's nothing new here'. Your own blog posts effectively undermine the authority of the book.
You only get one shot - Grainne has reflected on open book writing on her blog, and I have some sympathy with Martin Oliver's response: "Please, don’t condemn me to having to wade through pages of peoples’ blogs in order to find the one or two good ideas in there! The prospect of blog entries substituting for slow publication isn’t something that thrills me". if you hadn't noticed already, there's quite a lot of stuff out there, so it is perhaps unreasonable to expect people to come to your ideas twice. If you only get one shot at getting these ideas across, maybe it's the book or the blog, not both.
One of the themes of the book is that digital scholarship is in something of a paradox, or there is at least a tension, between the possibilities of new technologies and the preservation of some practices that have served knowledge construction and dissemination so well for centuries. In a very small way, this conflict between being open during the process and maintaining the integrity of the book as an artifact in itself is representative of the bigger tensions in scholarship.
Overall I would say that openness is beneficial, and in fact I can't really work any other way. Some of my concerns above may well turn out to be ill-founded, or at least overshadowed by benefits. But it would be incorrect to claim the relationship between openness and book writing is one of unending bliss. If they were on Facebook, they would describe their relationship as "it's complicated".