Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Tuesday, May 30, 2006



The writer’s desk is a mess. The writer’s house is a mess.

The writer is a boring person these days (the writer is very focused)

The writer is winding up a one year adventure (interior and exterior)

The writer has been writing

... and writing

... and writing

The writer is almost an author.

Not much time for blogging this year. I should have believed them when they said writing a book is almost like giving birth. Yes, in terms of the energy, the focus, the creative energy.

But it is almost complete! I turn in the final draft next week-end, and then I’m done with it for a while. I have mixed feelings – as much as I want to be done with it, I’m also frightened to let go.

For any would be authors here is a summary of the book creation process, from one who has been there:

IDEA. You get an idea. You roll it around in your head for a few months before you tell even your closest friend. During those months, the idea grows from a one sentence idea to a one pager.

BOOK. Could it be possible? You never thought of yourself as an author. However, you researched this idea, and nothing is available. It’s a book waiting to be written. You can create your own niche, only if a publisher would be interested.

PUBLISHER. Whoever would want to publish a nobody, especially when your idea is only a one pager? But the idea is planted in your head, and even though you don’t tell anybody, you find it the whole thing exciting.

Secret #1 to getting a publisher: Do A LOT of research on publishers. Don’t bother (with) publishers who don’t publish what you want to write. Get a personal recommendation if you can. The secret is finding the best match.

Secret #2 to getting a publisher: Put A LOT of time into the book proposal. If you are a nobody like most of us budding authors are, the proposal is the publisher’s only clue to your ideas, your writing style, and your ability to meet deadlines (creative people are often considered flaky, and publishers need to know you will do what you say you will). Adapt the proposal to the publishers guidelines.

Getting a publisher takes a LONG time – sometimes years. So while you are working on a publisher, you must also be working on the book.

Now your idea is starting to look like it will go somewhere, like into a real book. This is a good time to warn your family, significant other, boss, and co-workers that you will be distracted and generally unavailable for the next couple of years.

RESEARCH [ANALYTICAL]. These days every book requires research on some level -- even juvenile books. Do surveys, interviews, library research. Research will also tell you where to fill in the gaps in the knowledge base, as well as original research for your own idea. Remember, when you are writing a book, you are putting yourself out there as an expert. This step can take months or years.

Research draws on your analytical side. Set up a record keeping system. Track all of your research. Pay attention to detail. Keep the espresso machine working. Work at the computer.

BOOK STRUCTURE [CREATIVE]. This is the fun part. Take that one page idea and turn it into a table of contents. Then take every heading in the table of contents and turn it into a more detailed outline that is uniquely YOU. Jot down quotes, anecdotes, brilliant thoughts that you’re sure the whole world needs to know. No matter that you will revise the book structure three or four times before you are finished. This is still a very important and exciting step.

This step requires an entirely different state of mind from the research. Do whatever it takes to stir your creative juices. For me, it’s always a pen and paper--never the computer--a glass of wine, and music. Chopin works best for me. I even have a separate room in my house for the creative work, even a special chair. I also notice driving or swimming seems to bring creative ideas.

READ. Read. Read. Read critically. Now that you will be writing for an audience, you need to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, in print. You need to find your own voice in the world of print, but that voice needs to be appreciated by readers. Get writing style ideas from those who have been at it for a while, and then turn them into your own.

WRITE. This is the grunge work, the unglamorous stage that authors invoke when someone asks how wonderful it must be to be an author, and when are you scheduled for the Oprah Show? Well, there is no Oprah Show appearance and no glamour for 99.999% of us, so if that’s what you are looking for, try modeling for Marriott.

Though writing is one little line item in this list, it is 60% of the work.

The writing stage is when you take all of your research and all of your creative work and you turn a one page idea into a 200 page book. Word by word by word by word. This stage is lonely and isolating and discouraging. Now and then, a brilliant moment turns into a peak experience, but that is not common. 12-16 hour days at the computer are common, and sometimes – more often than you wish -- you will get up in the morning and discover that yesterday’s 16 hours turned out a bunch of crap, so you delete the whole thing and start again. Don't worry. That’s part of the process.

CHECKING IN. By now you are well into your project, probably so much so you would never consider quitting. Good! But time to check in with the rest of your life. Check in with your significant other. Is he or she still around, or has given up on you and left? Give him or her a big hug and something extra special. Have you neglected pets and plants? If they are still alive, give them some extra care. Make sure your bills are paid, especially your electric bill, since that runs your computer. Stock up on coffee.

What’s happening with the publisher? For most people, finding the right match takes time, patience and persistence. If you feel you have exhausted all the options, then try another tack. Take a class in finding a publisher. Consider publishing online. Consider self publishing. Consider adjusting your topic so it might attract a publisher. Exactly how you match yourself with a publisher is a personal thing, but if you have gotten this far, you are committed enough to follow the project through.

REVISE. Now that you have a draft from the first chapter to the last, you can see everything wrong with it. This is perfectly normal. There is no way to really evaluate the book until you have written a draft of the whole thing. My book went through three complete drafts, and it was pretty straight forward.

If writing is 60% of the work, revision is 35% of the remainder. Equally lonely, isolating and discouraging. But, at least you have a structure.

By now you should have a figured out your publishing options – signed a contract with a publisher or decided to go it on your own. If you are seeking a publisher, and haven’t yet signed a contract, you might want to stop writing till you get this taken care of, just in case the publisher wants a different approach in the book, you don’t want to go too far in the wrong direction.

FACT CHECK/PEER REVIEW. After you’ve finished the third or fourth revision, and are satisfied with the product, you need to DOUBLE CHECK all facts and references. An author is automatically considered an authority, and any errors you make in your book will be repeated over and over in bibliographies, citations, and student reports, not to mention the reviewers who catch your error and pan you.

Double check facts, URLs, and references. Ask experts in the field read sections and comment. Check for updated information. Find folks with different perspectives to read the entire manuscript and make comments. Better to get bad (or good) feedback before publication than after.

In my case I asked a subject expert to read each chapter and give feedback. I also had four peer reviewers to read the entire manuscript. Fortunately for me the critiques were mostly favorable, but the suggestions for improvement were extremely useful, and I incorporated almost every one.

PROOFREAD. Pretty straight forward, and I’m going to stop here and go to bed.

BOTTOM LINE: If you still want to be a writer after you have read this, then you have it in your blood.

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