Monday, March 22, 2010

Writing a Book: Part 3, Answering some Questions

I wanted to address some of the points raised in the comments section on Brian’s blog. Stan raises several interesting questions.

How did you solve the balance between themes that you personally found interesting, versus themes that would appeal to a wider audience?

This gets to the heart of writing. I once saw Tony Hillerman give a talk in which he said “Don’t write what the readers won’t read.” Good advice, particularly if you spent hours or days tracking down some random bit of information or some side story; it is very hard to not put that fact or story in the book. One way around this is to use endnotes, which is a sly way of slipping in your research without having it break up the story line. (This change often didn’t come until much later, after I had the time to better consider my cool fact and to realize it probably didn’t need to be in the main body of the book.) I have found that if I have to struggle to put something in that interests me, then it probably shouldn’t go in the story. Another way around this is when you do feel a theme is necessary but perhaps is less interesting to you, then couch it through something that interests you.

How much and how often did you involve friends and family in the process, especially before getting an agent and editor?

I do get friends involved. As I wrote earlier, I often bounce ideas off them to get their reactions. I did have friends read various chapters, not for editing purposes, but to see if they thought the chapter flowed and if they thought it was interesting. I did get good advice from friends but also recognized that they would not be completely honest if they didn’t like it.

How did you balance time between research and writing? I find there is *always* one more book or article to read, and have to force myself to sit down and just write.

Yes, there is always more research to do, particularly if you are looking to procrastinate on the writing process. One way to stop researching is to have a deadline. I gave myself two months to research and write my chapters, which definitely forced me to close the books and start writing. And, ultimately, I figured there was no way I could get every fact and figure in so I might as well move on.

Some people have suggested going with a NaNoWriMo-style approach of "write first, edit later." How carefully did you proceed when first writing, and how much editing did you do afterwards?

I write. I edit. I write. I edit. I edit a lot when I write and am not very good at letting go and simply putting stuff on the page. I do, however, write lots of material that never goes forward. I have found that doing so does allow me to get things out of my brain and allows me to move the process along.

In regard to editing, I have a couple of things I like to do. I do edit on the computer as I go but for more serious editing I print out the document. I also will read it aloud, which helps with structure and flow. And, finally, I let the material sit overnight or even longer. I want to get the writing out of my system and try to approach it with fresh eyes.

Practical tips: What software did you use along the way? (I'm trying DevonThink and Scivener. Bookmarks in Delicious.)

And what was your daily writing practice? (Always at certain time of day? Always in certain cafe? Warm up exercises? Write on paper, then transcribe into computer? Did you print out drafts along the way for editing?)

I am not sure exactly what you mean by this. I write on an iMac and use MSWord.

I don’t really have a daily writing practice except to consider it a job. I am usually on the computer by 7am and off it by 5-6pm. I don’t work well at night. I usually take a nap in the afternoon. Some days I write. Some days I do research. Most days it was a combo. I write on the computer though when I am really bogged down I will write on paper. And, yes, I killed trees on a regular basis printing out drafts for editing.

Thanks for all of the questions.


mountainbeltway said...

I have found the bit about "letting writing sit" to be very true for myself -- looking on it with fresh eyes a day or week later is essential to my writing practice. Enjoying the series; thanks!

Tony Edger said...

This is a marvelous series. The insight into the creative decisions you and the other authors make enriches my reading of popular science in general. (Your immediately previous post also suggests I need to keep handy some of the analytical tools I learned in English Lit classes.)