Demystifying Book Writing III

This is more a progress report than a full-fledged update. I hit a speed bump about 36 hours ago. I started Chapter 3 but no matter what I wrote it was dull, dull, dull. I realized last night what the problem was. I didn’t know enough.  I remembered something I learned a long time ago as a teacher. In order to explain even a small point clearly I need a mountain of information. Albert Einstein said it better: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

So, it’s back to the books (or Internet) for me. I know more this morning than I did last night but the journey continues. This exercise reminds me that there is no shortcut to a responsible, well-written book. And, even if no one ever reads my book, I don’t want anything less.

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Demystifying Book Writing Part II

book for mystifying blog

I am in the process of writing another small book. A particular kind of concentration is required to complete this project.  There may be people who write from pure inspiration; that’s not me.  Inspiration is essential but not enough. Information is equally important, and patience.

The idea for my book took root only a couple of weeks ago. I had been itching to start on a book for a while but needed to hit on something that grabbed my imagination. Once I got the idea it germinated for a few days. Then I started reading. As I read I began to understand what I needed to learn about my subject. At that point my plan was taking clear shape.

However, I never know if a plan has ‘legs’ until I put words down on paper. Usually I just jump in. I find pictures that are interesting, and random bits of fascinating trivia. I’ve grown familiar with my subject by this stage, so there’s context in which to place the material. This is one of the best parts about writing. I know so much more than I did,  because I’ve been studying.

I love that.

As I put material on paper the practicality of my plan is either validated or not. Often the words lead me in a path that diverges from the original plan. That’s also something I enjoy. When this happens, I’m not just writing for others; I’m also writing for myself. Often I inflict my excitement on family and start to tell them about my discoveries.  This exercise is very helpful and I am grateful to my family for the kindness they extend to me.

The need to frame my thoughts into words that make sense to other people–my family–requires discipline. Not only must I speak logically, but I have to honestly observe the reaction to what I believe to be fascinating information. If people are bored, I’m in trouble.

On the other hand, if my family shows more than polite interest in the material I share, there’s a good chance my intended audience will be engaged.

I’m pretty sure where my current book is going, what my next step has to be.  I certainly know where the book finishes (although sometimes I may be surprised by that).  The beginning is down; the path is set.  The middle will be an adventure as I follow the stepping stones, the highlights of history that will direct the story I would like to tell.

One thing I can’t lose sight of is the audience.  If the attention of the audience is lost, so too is my objective.

The way I go about writing a book certainly will not work for everyone.  My ambition in my current project is very modest.  The intended audience is young people, though I anticipate that the occasional mature reader who stumbles upon the book will not regret the experience.

I love to write.  When I’m finished with a book, I pass it on and hope it has a life of its own. For anyone who creates anything, that is a miracle every time it happens.

Demystifying Book Writing, Part I

accent picture creating

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.