Demystifying Book Writing, Part I

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For most of my life writing a book seemed out of reach.  Sometimes I would begin to write, but then couldn’t hold onto the idea.  I felt as though I was grabbing a handful of sand.  My project had no cohesion and the objective quickly fell out of view.  The problem of constancy ended on the day I decided to write about something very specific; I kept that clear goal in mind through to the end of the project.

Writing my first book was a struggle.  Though the sense of holding sand was gone, I still lacked technique.  The endpoint at least gave me something to head toward but this vision was not a compass.  Many times I got lost and wasted time exploring tangents.

Producing my book was difficult, but instructive. The experience  taught me that book writing is like any skill;  it can be developed even if the spark of genius is absent.

For me, the first obstacle to writing was psychological.  I needed to overcome the belief that my book had to be a masterpiece.  I came to the understanding, as years passed, that a masterpiece probably wasn’t ever going to happen for me.  This realization wasn’t depressing; it was a license.  Even if my words would not be immortal, they could still be effective.  Being effective might just be enough.

Once I swallowed this bit of realism, I asked myself why I wanted to write.  Humility came to the rescue.  I enjoy it. And there’s always the possibility that my words might have influence.  These two reasons were sufficient to sustain my ambition.

Time has proven that I was correct to continue writing.  My first book was by no means brilliant, but it was serviceable and it received recognition from at least one national organization.  True, the organization wasn’t literary; it was a charitable foundation.  I’ll settle for that.

My writing has value.  If I didn’t write, that value would not exist.  Plus, I’m having a blast.  I’ve developed a skill, a knack for turning out books that are worthwhile and very readable.  The more I write, the better I get at it.

I know how to put a book together.  There are people I’m certain who are wishing, as I once did, that they could grab an idea, hold onto it and write their first book.  With this blog, and the one that will follow, I hope to give some of these aspiring writers a few clues about how to proceed.

It is not a lack of modesty that allows me to take the liberty of offering suggestions about writing.  I was once a teacher.  It is natural for me to share what I know.  As an experienced teacher I understand that some will want to listen and learn, and some will not.  But once again, humility comes to the rescue.  I’ll settle for helping just one or two people.  If my blog helps only that number, it will have been worth the effort.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Marie Curie on Education

Theories about education don’t evolve; they erupt.  Most people understand that childhood offers an irreplaceable opportunity to influence minds for a lifetime.   Maybe that explains the furor surrounding the roll-out of the Common Core in communities across the US. While the trend toward rigid standards, uniform curriculum and increased formal instruction seems sound to some, to others it seems a travesty, a squandering of childhood’s most precious gifts:  play, imagination and exploration. Included in this camp would surely be Marie Curie, if she were alive today to express a view.

In a book she wrote about her mother, Marie Curie’s youngest daughter, Eve, described Marie’s views on education.  Eve explained that Marie dreaded sending her children into the sterile, confined atmosphere of a structured classroom.  Marie regarded formal schooling as  “hours of attendance”.  Her philosophy was that children should be encouraged to find their talent through exploration.  It was in this way that Irene, the older daughter, discovered an early interest in mathematics; and Eve, the younger daughter, learned through experimentation that she was fascinated with music.

Essential to the daily regimen of both Curie children was vigorous physical activity.  Marie installed gym equipment at home and took the girls on camping trips. Together the family trekked through the countryside on extensive biking trips.  “Formal” instruction was put off as long as possible.  In its place, Marie devised a scheme with her  colleagues at the Sorbonne.

The girls, and several other children, would be exposed to the finest minds, in a congenial atmosphere.  Each day the children would spend hours with a professor from a specific discipline.  The weeks would be passed in this way, with a casual rotation between specialties and a cheerful approach toward learning.

Eventually Marie’s daughters were obliged to go to formal classes, but not until this was absolutely necessary.  Irene eventually earned a Doctor of Science degree and Eve earned two bachelor degrees, one in philosophy and one in music.

Irene went on to win a Nobel Prize in 1935 and later continued to do groundbreaking research in nuclear physics.  Eve was for a time a concert pianist. She was also a journalist, diplomat and humanitarian.

Irene died in 1956, Eve in 2007. I would be hard to imagine two more accomplished women.  Whether their mother’s approach to education enabled a lifetime of accomplishment, it would be hard to say.  But their lives and achievements certainly make a good argument for those who believe that a a rigid curriculum may not be the path to a great mind.