I am spending much of this month working a number of esquisses of academic articles on animals, which for various reasons I never published, into a non-academic essay that I will publish as a non-academic book. How does one transform academic writing into non-academic writing? For the most part, I find I just have to delete those stupid guiding phrases like, "In this section, I will show that...", or "Consider the following sentence..." (a vulgarism about which Ted Cohen once brilliantly commented: "What the hell else did you think I was going to do? Get to that point and then start reading backwards?!"); and I am nixing those tiresome appeals to authority, like, "As such-and-such authors have shown..." I find this re-working a true pleasure; I am finally saying what I wanted to say about animals in the way I wanted to say it.
I surprised some friends recently when I told them that I never write anything entirely new. Every time I begin writing I do it by cutting and pasting some chunk of old writing, and then I set about re-working it, and expanding it, until it becomes something new. I compared this at the moment to planting a twig from an old tree, but in fact I think it's something more like that cooking practice in certain traditional cultures, where the same pot is used, unwashed, for generations of stews. A 'new' stew is begun upon the film and dregs of the old one, and the flavor of each stew is produced from thousands of such iterations. In any case if I were absolutely obliged to write something that had no pre-existence at all, I would have to give up and confess my illiteracy.