Friday, July 9, 2010

The Dangers of Mixing Book Conception with Fertility Drugs

Today is my last full day on Drummond Island, and it seems appropriate to offer up a progress report on my book. 
When I struggled for more than three years to get traction on this project, my wife, Ma’ikwe, wisely took the initiative and scheduled these two weeks in northern Michigan where my principal task was to finally spend time working on the damn book.
Now that I’m actually up here doing it, things are getting out of hand.
Here I am in a protected, nutrient-rich environment (lots of unscheduled time, a beautiful setting, a loving partner, good coffee, and internet access), regularly thinking about what I want to say. I arrived two weeks ago looking forward to how my labor pains this fortnight would lead in a straight forward way to the birth of my first literary child, sometime in the year ahead. Now it’s beginning to look like quints.
I reckon that’s one of the risks of placing myself in an artificial environment expressly for the purpose of enhancing conception—sometimes you get more than you bargained for.
I knew I was in conceptual foment by Day Four when it first occurred to me that I have too much to say about facilitation to just shoehorn it into a chapter or two about cooperative group dynamics in general (which was the topic I originally thought could reasonably contain all of my publishable musings). When I went for my daily walk on Day Five, I set for myself the task of brooding about whether I was going to write one book or two. Two hours (and eight miles) later, mitosis had struck again, and I was up to four books, having added one on power & leadership, as well as a fourth on sustainable economics. Good grief!
• • •
Let me pause here in my narrative to describe a bit about how I’m approaching this project. Because I already have a lot written (perhaps 100 reports to clients, 75 articles in Communities magazine, 60 workshop handouts, nearly 290 blog entries, and enough private correspondence with peers to clog a high-speed shredder) almost all of my work on the book to date has been devoted to organizing—sketching out all the subjects I want to address, figuring out what I have already written about that topic (and where I’ve stored it!), determining which pieces naturally fit together, and figuring out how things should be sequenced. Mostly this amounts to drafting a Table of Contents and then diligently walking through my files to review 12 years worth of accumulated offerings to determine what writing is strong enough to be brought forward as book material. Whenever I unearth something that looks promising, I dump a copy into the appropriate chapter and move on. Sometimes I make a discovery that causes me to create a new chapter. It’s a dynamic process and involves a fair amount of meandering.
At this point I guess I'm only 10% done with my review, and that means that gobs of work remain before I'll need to think about finding a publisher. However, now that I have a road map for how to proceed, my hope is that I'll be able to regularly grind away at it, a la the brave hopes for setting aside time that I expressed last fall [see my blog of Sept 25, 2009, Booking My Future].
• • •
Thus, after my Day Five revelation, I paused to draft a Table of Contents for each new book, so that I’d have a broader and more appropriate field in which to sort as I electronically walked down (random access) memory lane. This was a good discipline in that it helped me see right away which subjects I had a books-worth in me to write about.
By Day Seven I was having second thoughts about a book on power & leadership. My would-be Table of Contents there was not filling out and I went back to the idea of covering that in the book on cooperative groups. Whew! Also, I could see that the book on sustainable economics was a new enough focus for me and a different enough topic that I could safely leave it the corner for now, to be developed only after I’d birthed the other babies. So at the end of the first week I was at three books: one on cooperative groups, one on facilitation, and one (down the road) on sustainable economics.
However, even with all of that sorted, I kept walking and kept thinking. By Day Nine I’d added a book on nonprofit administration, especially slanted toward those organizations dependent on volunteers rather than a staff paid market-rate wages. I had no trouble at all filling out the Table of Contents for that one.
By Day Eleven I gave up trying to cover everything I have to offer about consensus as a single chapter in my book on cooperative groups—which I am determined to focus in such a way that it depends neither on living in intentional community, nor on making decisions by consensus. While I continue to think that decision is a wise one (in the interest of greatly broadening its application), the truth is that I’ve been living and breathing consensus for more than 30 years and it just wasn’t working to cram everything I have to offer on that topic into one chapter. Thus, two days ago I yielded to the inevitable and it became the fifth book. While Ma’ikwe thinks this is all amusing, she’s not the one making commitments to the work. When will this end?
I’m debating whether I dare go for a walk today, or should just leave well enough alone.


Taiya Shiner said...

Thank you for sharing - this post is very heartening for me. And the way you tell the story draws me into the experience and am left with a lingering sense of warm illumination.

Liz Logan said...

LOL! this explains why you have multiple "book" tags on the sidebar. Shall we call you Octo-Man?

Thanks, Ma'ikwe for suggesting this!