I am now in the middle of writing my first Mellon "emperors" lecture, for the National Gallery in Washington. I'm always surprised how little is written about the processes of writing. You read any number of autobiographies of academics, and they will almost never share the struggles of getting the words on the page and into the lecture hall. They just seem to have an idea and it pops into writing. Or on the other hand, they are blocked.. but they dont ever quite explain what the unblocking mechanism is.
I am now pretty clear about what I want to say in my first lecture. It will start from a curious story about a Roman imperial sarcophagus refused by President Andrew Jackson as a burial place, and will end up (by a logical path!) thinking about the ways, over the last 200 plus years, we have identified (ancient) portraits of Julius Caesar. My line here is that each generation finds a new image of Caesar for themselves... and new "real" images are identified, as each generation passes.
So far so good. But how do you go about putting this over to a mixed audience of 300+ (lets hope!) all of whom are smart, but some of whom are specialists, some not.
I have to say that I have scrubbed out an awful lot of versions. Not because they were wrong, but because they were boring. And then I scrubbed out more because, although they seemed quite sexy, I didnt think I wanted to say exactly that to the specialists in the audience. How do you arrive at something that is both academically cutting edge and defensible, AND then accessible to the intelligent general audience AND packs a punch.. that is to say makes it clear that you are still bloody keen on this subject on which you have promised to speak.
Anyway, after going in circles, a bit of a breakthrough came today. I thought I should have a look at what some of my images looked like on the big screen here. So I mocked up a powerpoint to have a test drive (thank you Mattie for arranging). I thought to start with that this was a terrible waste of time (it took me 2 hours to make the mock-up power point for heaven sake). But then, as I made it , I saw how amazing these images of Roman emperors I had assembled were, and how I had sold my self short. Too much anal obsession about anachronicity (a bit is surely needed, but only a bit) .. too little in your face stuff on the sheer, intriguing, intellectual splendour of Roman imperial images.
So 2500 words to go on lecture one, and I have seen the way forward; then only 25,000 words more to go.