How Your Phase I (Boot Camp) Work Differs from Writing a Book Proposal

How Your Phase I (Boot Camp) Work Differs from Writing a Book Proposal

When I was at your stage, I thought I was ready to write a book proposal. About six months after receiving my Ph.D., I drafted what I now call my book's proto-proposal.

What I now realize I was actually trying to do was get a handle on the book as a whole and how all of its pieces fit together. I had never written a book before, so I didn't yet have the ability to conceptualize my book as an independent object. The thought of trying to do so—to imagine this new manuscript as independent even though it would draw heavily on work I had already started—felt overwhelming. So my proto-proposal ended up starting from the dissertation and building up, rather than starting with a blank slate.

Don't get me wrong—my proto-proposal was still a useful exercise (even though I did not submit it to presses).

But as I revised the book, I realized that this mode of writing was not appropriate for my goals. Namely: the proposal mode required me to make a convincing case for my book, which necessarily assumed that I had already made deliberate choices about its structure, scope, and narrative arc. The proposal genre, in other words, did not allow me to do the work I urgently needed to do at that stage: explore some of the fundamental assumptions upon which the dissertation (and therefore the book-in-becoming) rested.

I realized later that an exploratory mode would have been more useful at that stage, one that would have allowed me to see how my choices had shaped the dissertation and carefully assess whether they would fit my book.

Phase I—especially the first module—is designed to help you do just that: reflect on your choices as you imagine your book-in-becoming.

Before you can adopt the persuasive, retrospective tone and perspective a proposal requires, then, you must first take an experimental, prospective, and analytical approach to your project to rigorously test its fundamental design. In the end, this work will allow you to write a more coherent project and give you the confidence necessary to represent it well in a strong proposal.

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