Writing study guides is a strange thing. When I teach essay writing skills to students we make the point of telling them to answer the question only. I make the point of telling them that it is not an exercise in 'telling everything you know'. However, when it comes to writing study guides, that's exactly what you have to do.
At the beginning of last year I wrote the York Notes Advanced guide on Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. There had been almost no critical writing on the book, and there was very little material to go. The result was that I did something that one very rarely gets to do in academia. I just wrote what I thought. I didn't rely on secondary sources. I didn't quote from what people had previously said. I had no giants on whose shoulders I could stand, I just looked at the book, decided on an interpretation, and went for it. It was remarkably liberating. Of course, I had all the close reading skills I had ever learned, all the theoretical standpoints I had brushed up against, and a whole body of comparative literary studies to work from, but you know what I mean. And in that case, it really was about 'telling everything I knew'.
Recently I have been finishing off two smaller guides. One on Stephen King's The Stand, and one on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The first has been a little like my work on the The Kite Runner. There isn't a lot out there, so I've been able to provide my own interpretations. Of course, with Shakespeare, pretty much everything has been said, so it's more a job of collation than of creation. But still, in both cases, as with The Kite Runner, compiling a study guide, a written account to try and help a student to a rounded understanding, is a really interesting thing to do.
Okay, so, anyone who knows me will know I complain about writing them. They are, after all, work, and who enjoys that? But to immerse yourself in a text to that extent, to try and explain all the aspects of a book or play, to try and find the 'everything' so you can tell it, is a chance that you don't often get. Even when you teach a text, you don't often have the chance - or the time - to explore all the various facets of a text. So, for all that I complain, I do enjoy doing them. I wouldn't keep coming back if I didn't.
Anyway, enough of all this. After I finish off these guides and submit them, I'm going to work on my own novel. A very different proposition, much more creative, but another chance to tell everything I know. Wish me luck.