Entry 82: Don’t Fear the Shark Tank

Editor’s Note: This is the 82nd installment in Van Jackson’s daily writing journal, “Nuke Your Darlings,” which tracks his six-month battle to write a new book on North Korea. Will he meet his deadline?

I wrote 930 words today, which is the most productive I’ve been in more than a week.  I’m finished with the second of the Trump-era chapters and now working on the final one.

These final chapters are flowing.  That might be because I’ve been immersed in this book for so long that I have an intuitive feel for the words that need to appear on the paper.  It might also be because the Trump era stuff is so recent.  Or perhaps I’m writing garbage and I don’t know it; sure hope not.

All I know is that, notwithstanding the disruption of conferencing last week, the hard part about writing these final chapters has been structuring the words into a narrative with some perspective and distance; writing the building blocks themselves has been very straightforward.

Last week I met with one of the biggest celebrities in security studies, from one of the biggest universities for security studies.  He and his university are well above my current station, so I won’t blow him up by name-dropping here.  Aside from the joy of the conversation, which was GREAT, he offered to host a book workshop on this book before it goes to print.  It would be a murder board from a group of uber-distinguished scholars, especially on nuke issues; literally A-list celebs of academia.  They’re going to read my manuscript, listen to me pitch it, and then grill me a la Shark Tank on their campus.

This kind of thing doesn’t happen often, and has never happened to me.  I’ve honestly been grappling with how to feel about it though.  On the one hand, it’s a hell of an opportunity.  Cinderella has just been invited to the ball.  And the very offer is recognition that I got skillz.

On the other hand, these people are going to destroy my manuscript.  The timing of the workshop will leave very little time for edits before the book goes to print.  And as much as I feel like I earned top billing, it’s hard not to feel pangs of imposter syndrome amid the best and brightest.  I mean, there are scholars out there who put out better stuff than I do but don’t get opportunities like this.

Regardless, this is clearly my latest 8 Mile moment.  My book could come out without the murder board, but it will surely be better because of it, even if I don’t have time to incorporate all of their feedback.  Plus, I’m building substantive (non-superficial) professional ties with some of the A-listers of my field.  After all my trash talk about 8-Mile moments, how can I not jump on this opportunity?


Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks and an associate editor of the Texas National Security Review. He is also a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington, and the Defence & Strategy Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies.