Thursday, December 09, 2010

Continued progress on international tax book

I was going to say that writing a book is like running a marathon. But at least with book-writing you can stop at any time and just resume later where you left off (not sound practice in marathons). On the other hand, the sum total for this multi-year project (as it has turned out, although I generally I write pretty fast) feels a lot longer than 26.2 miles.

I've been laboring in a foreign tax credit portion of my manuscript in progress, Fixing the U.S. International Tax Rules. When I'm stuck, I start writing blog entries or just cruising the Internet out of frustration. Then I feel like I'm wasting my time. But the last couple of days have gone really well (even though I've been throwing up blog posts just to take a break from it.)

The things that make this book in particular so hard for me include the following:

1) I've got a whole lot of balls in the air at the same time. And, to shamelessly mix my metaphors (in addition to splitting an infinitive), I need to explain each of the balls very clearly and fit everything into the book's overall organization. Back and forth can be confusing, but there's no alternative when everything relates to everything else. OK, I feel another metaphor coming on. It's a bit like having 5 cups of coffee that you have to advance 10 blocks, and you can't carry them all at the same time. (No tray, apparently.)

2) Stop-and-go writing, especially on a topic one has been thinking and writing about for a couple of years (and where there was a 70 percent complete prior book draft that I decided to scrap), means that you continually forget what you've said so far in the current version.

3) As usual I'm trying to reach multiple audiences, ranging from students and layfolk to the top of the profession.

4) Unlike in my previous book, Decoding the Corporate Tax, I am to a considerable degree proposing very substantial changes in how we think about the issues. Decoding, by contrast, summarized and explained a preexisting literature. (The difference being that academic understanding of the corporate tax is vastly further along than that in the international tax realm.) But no matter how correct you are, you know there will be plenty of skeptics starting out, and indeed plenty left at the end no matter how good a job you do. This creates a challenging writing task, since you need to be very clear as well as explicit (while also, to a degree, inventing new terminology), but neither grandiose, offensive, nor overly dismissive of what's gone before.

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