Don's diary: a writer wrestles his demons...

October 24, 2003

A colleague who is editing a series suggests I write a book on student support. I am flattered but intimidated. "Of the making of many books there is no end," said that gloomy old homilist Ecclesiastes, "and much study is weariness of the flesh." Clearly not a man signed up to the government's widening participation initiative.

My best writing environment so far is on a train journey. I manage about ten words a mile on Anglia Rail and 50 on Thameslink. However, the predicted royalties-minus-rail-fares equation will turn negative at about 14,000 words, so a different environment is needed. I need a virtual rail journey experience, rather like Connex.

Spring 2000
I meet Giant Despair on a SuperSaver return from the Slough of Despond, and change for all stations to the Valley of Humiliation. The more I write the more there is to write. Will I ever finish?

Autumn 2000
Dispatch a draft to the publishers. A huge and birdless silence ensues until the copy editor contacts me. As an advocate of the 3S's study method (skim, skip and scrape), I have never been good at accuracy. So, to have her politely emailing me "the URL you quote on page 12 appears to be inactive" and "the page numbers in your reference on page 14 seem to be missing" is more pleasure than the human frame can usefully endure. But this pales next to the joy of indexing.

Spring 2001
The book appears and is kindly reviewed, so I'm told; I can't bear to read any reviews, good or bad. But, oddly, I really don't mind if no one reads it - honestly. I've discovered one of the appeals of writing a book: it's to make sense of all that stuff that happens in a working life. Whether it makes sense to anyone else is strangely immaterial.

Autumn 2001
Apparently the book warrants a second edition. This involves reading it and asking myself: "Why did I say that?" and "what in heaven's name did I mean?" But this is fun. It's a chance to redraft the stuff in my life. As John Clare wrote: "If life had a second edition, how I would correct the proofs!"

Spring 2002
The second edition appears and hubris follows. Why not another book, on student retention this time? An advance is promised, but that's too tempting. The money would glower on top of my PC saying: "Now earn me" - and I know I couldn't.

Autumn 2002
I am on the last train to Dark Night of the Soul Parkway. Why did I do this? This is how dropout students sometimes feel, and I am retained in the same way that they are. My series editor inquires: "How's it going?" - and I get back on track.

July 2003
The book is out...

August 2003
... and promptly disappears, as the publishers have sold their education list.

October 2003
The book reappears with a new publisher. Now for the reviews...

Ormond Simpson is director of the Open University's Centre for Educational Guidance and Student Support. His book Student Retention in Online, Open and Distance Learning is published by RoutledgeFalmer.

Got a Don's Diary proposal?
Contact Anna Thomson on 020 7782 3168
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