Where do you begin?
An occasional series on writing a new book
Given that there are more than two million books published each year and countless millions in development, writing a book isn’t entirely uncommon.
But it is rare in physiotherapy, particularly in non-technical publishing.
According to the Interesting Facts of the Day blog (https://tinyurl.com/y3a4shmz), one in every 400 people in the UK publishes a book each year. I wonder how many books would be written as a proportion of the physiotherapy population? I suspect we’d look more like Kenya or the Phillippines.
People say physiotherapists are practical, motivated, busy people, drawn to the profession for its hands-on approach to healthcare. They’d prefer to learn a new technique to fix a shoulder than contemplate the philosophical roots of their practice. So we don’t write many books.
But is that really true? It implies that physiotherapists are somewhat thought-less: blindly accepting what they are told physiotherapy is or can be; flitting with their butterfly minds from one guru cult to another, taking up treatment trends without thought for the deeper discourses at play. And I’m not sure that’s entirely the case.
All that aside though, books, theses, and other types of long-form writing can be a great way to show that physiotherapy is a thought-full practice. But as anyone who has written a lengthy dissertating knows, there are some things you need in place if you’re going to succeed.
I’ve written three book-length texts now and supervised a dozen doctoral students doing their own. Over time I’ve learned that if you’re going to embark on a book or long thesis, you’re going to need the following if you want to succeed:
A love of writing, or at least a love of the struggles that come with writing. Taking three-dimensional ideas and turning them into linear prose is not easy, but it’s only one more skill that comes with its own practice and learning. You just have to want to acquire this skill as much as anything else.
Determination and the willingness to put other things aside to get this done. This can’t be a burden in your life, or you’ll resent it and fail. So the changes you make to your life to do a project like this have to be life-enhancing.
The support from family and colleagues. They don’t have to understand or even care about your project, but they need to support your endeavor. You’ll need time to do this. LOTS of time. Much of it will be your own, but they’ll need to chip in some of their time too if you’re going to get this done. And yes, that includes the person who pays your salary.
A good idea. It doesn’t have to be fully formed - writing is as much about finding it as defining it - but it does need to be a gnawing sense that there’s something out there that needs to be explored. It needs to be powerful enough to make you want to try again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
Critics. You’ll need people around you who can tell you your ideas don’t make sense, your writing is sloppy, and your arguments are weak. Theses students have supervisors to do this for them, and part of the thesis process is about learning to be your own critic. But even when you’ve graduated you’ll need a network of people who constantly make you write your best.
You can often get by without one or two of these if you embark on a smaller project, like a new course of study or writing a research article. But a book or thesis will find you out if even one of these is not in place.
A book can take three or four years to write and I know that, for me at least, that’s going to mean working 10-20 hours per week on it, six days a week, 50 weeks of the year. I’m incredibly lucky because this is now part of my job, but that’s not always been the case.
And if this all sounds daunting, remember that some people spend that, and more, doom-scrolling through social media or binge-watching police procedurals. So we all have time to spare if we really want it. We just have to want it. And that’s perhaps the most important thing.