The good thing about already having written a book is that I can reassure myself that my current angst is normal. I've been in this place before -- the place where one no longer knows what it is that one was supposed to be doing. But I've also emerged from this place before -- sources were found, chapters got written -- and all was well. So I am taking comfort in knowing that this is "just a phase."
Basically, the first part of my current book project is stuck. I blithely assumed I knew what I was doing in this section (having already written on the early twentieth century and related topics many, many times over the last 15 years), knew what it would look like, and left the piddly little details of which stories I would actually tell to be decided "later." So off I went, researching and writing away on the second half of the book over the last couple of years. But now, well, we have arrived at "later." It is time to move on the early parts of the book and I don't seem to know what the fuck I am doing.
I've pulled lots of sources and they give evidence of people and organizations doing all the things I knew they were doing (building boarding houses and hotels for women, lunchrooms, restrooms, campaigning for street lighting and covered streetcar stops, etc.) but I've got a big ole nothin' in terms of why they are doing what they are doing. Oh, they have their reasons -- lots of references to the civic good and protecting the most vulnerable -- but it is not quite what I wanted. What did I want? I no longer am sure... I just know that it isn't this. I can't make the connections I thought I could. I don't seem to have anything new to say. So I'm shifting... The work of reformers now seems much less significant to me when I consider that commercial institutions looking to profit off a changing economic structure and shifting social patterns of sociability did as much to reshape the social and physical urban geography as those pesky middle-class Progressives -- and that just shoots to hell the parallels I had hoped to draw. And what then, do I actually focus on in this part of the book? Which cities? Which changes?
Aargh. Even as I write this I still can't put my finger on what is not working for me. Guess this dying fish needs to flop on the dock a bit longer.
Time to turn to my current coping mechanism of choice.... the sun is out, I'm going for a ride. I'll let the bits stew while I crank the pedals.