I dusted off my dissertation and made moves towards revising it into a book. An ancient email from an interested editor at a university press lurks stage left. I need to update my take on the current state of the field for the book's introduction in order to show where my argument fits. Problem is: Whenever I do JSTOR searches or try to update my bibliography, I break out in hives. Trying to situate my project in the 100s of new articles -- many in convoluted academicese that seems downright toxic to my confidence -- is overwhelming and demoralizing. Even making a list of the articles makes me think that my book is irrelevant, bizarre, or boring. Any thoughts?
You are suffering from A.R.S.: Academic Re-entry Shock. A.R.S. affects PhDs who take a break from their dissertation research in order to focus on new research, a full time job, or other reasons. When they dust off their dissertation a year or more later, the dust enters their respiratory tract, causing hives-like symptoms, including wheezing and a sense of dread brought on by JSTOR searches.
Antidote: Decompress in one of those chambers -- you know when people come back from deep-sea dives?
You can also homebrew Dissertation-to-Book Diva Anti-A.R.S. Spray (TM) using NYC or San Francisco tap water, organic peppermint or rosemary oil, and a sprig of mint from a community garden. Spritz it around your workspace to clear your aura from toxicity.
When you can approach updating your research once again, I suggest focusing on the major developments (books, authors) in your field and related fields, not every tiny article. Who are the Big Three in each field? Who is closest to your sensibility? Also, stay on track with your book's argument, contributions, and unique angle, while taking into account new developments.