How do you revive an old, crusty academic book project?

I’ve got a complex book that I’ve worked on over the years side by side with publishing articles on some of the knotty pieces. I have a crusty draft, about 70% done, as well as multiple versions of the book chapters in the draft, old and new articles I’ve tossed into the chapter directories and directories for the articles, freewrites, pdfs, powerpoints (can’t be brought into scrivener) and so on. I’ve also tossed reference materials into DevonThink Pro. I’ve decided that I’m going to use my old draft more as notes for writing a current draft. The book itself is interdisciplinary and theoretical, which has always posed challenges for organization that the articles did not. On top of that, it is also contracted as a “crossover trade book,” so it needs to be high accessible and low jargon (which it’s not now).
I’ve tentatively decided to put each chapter and its associated mess into separate projects. As these are finished, then I’d move them to a single book project to integrate the chapters, eliminate redundancies, etc. I have a few labels for status.
Still, every time that I open up the book directory and look at the accumulated files, I poke through the mess for hours, overwhelmed. Have any of you self-rescued from a mess like this, and do you have any hard-won experience to share?

I think you are on the right path splitting the chapters up into projects.

Approach it like one would approach spring cleaning. It seems a daunting task but if you make it smaller projects and refine each one individually it makes it more manageable. When you spring clean you start in one room and then move on. Same with your project.

I think the goal is to make progress and focus on only one chapter at a time until it is refined and polished. Then move to the second and so forth. Once all the chapters are refined and polished combine them into one Project then organize and polish/tweak were needed.

If you approach it as one BIG project it will hinder your motivation and the feeling of accomplishment when you refine one chapter but broken into smaller more manageable chunks each time you make progress on one individual chapter the motivation is stronger and the reward is greater.

if that makes any sense?

Thanks, Wock. It does make sense to me. It’s not just the size that overwhelms me, but trying to be efficient in getting it together. I’ve put each chapter into it’s own project and am now breaking each chapter into one or two paragraph chunks. It’s turned out to be enormously helpful thanks to the difference Scrivener makes in organizing the chores.

I’m with Wock on this. You absolutely MUST chunk this project into smaller manageable bits and focus on getting them into shape one at a time… but you also must have an overview/outline/skeleton to help you navigate.

I had a similar project (as editor) – an aged, overgrown, messy ‘book in embryo’ that met your description… i.e. a collection that had grown from a compilation of other ‘matter’ and whose author also imagined it could have multiple audiences.

How we crunched it was to sit down and mind-map two things:

  1. What THIS book is
  2. What THIS book is NOT
    Then a third mind-map:
  3. A description of someone who represents the primary audience

We agreed at the outset that this was not likely to be the author’s last book, nor the last book ever written on the subject. And – vitally – that nothing would be ‘lost’ … it would just be set aside as not being ideal for inclusion in THIS project. (Can you feel the pressure easing?)

Also, we agreed to take much of the dense academic or scholarly ‘justification’ for some of the book’s arguments OUT of the text (like yours, it aimed to be a crossover book, not a concordance) we wanted to nail his colours to the mast in a popular, accessible book first. (We can dream, can’t we?)
So we kept aside this ‘back-up’ material for a later more academic version (or the witch trial - whichever came first).

This 'nothing is lost, it just may not be included ’ approach eased the way for my author psychologically – less grief and fewer longing farewells to ‘good’ info.
Hey, we all tend to over research… the trouble is, as you noted, it can lead to feeling overwhelmed.

The arms of the ‘what this book IS’ mind-map (actually the 3rd or 4th re-working of the mind-map) became the chapters. And they were worked through systematically.
The Scrivener software is IDEAL for this synthesis/reworking stuff. Ideal.
The child of Keith’s genius allows us to gather up the relevant remnants on the theme for that chapter and dovetail them in.

So: create a map: what’s in, what’s out… and tackle a chapter/concept at a time.
Sounds simple?
(I once heard Leonard Cohen say he’d lived his life by ‘the principle of procrastination’. It still takes persistent work.)

Good luck, Peter

Yes SCR is wonderful for situations like this. I do find that many people seem to think one piece of work has to belong into just one SCR PROJECT where actually you can use the power of many SCR PROJECTS on one piece of work to organize and make large projects more manageable.

PeterA said it best especially the psychological approach you must take as well.

Well… Summarizer might help here, don’t you think? Give it a try. It’s my new Big Squeeze and feeds splendidly into the Scrivener workflow.

But, yes, chunking. I have something similar I have to do next, and I am slicing and dicing with Tinderbox – again, very useful, but more complex to get the hang of. (Though well worth it, I’d say.)