Thursday, May 12, 2016

Picking Up the Pen Again

After a hiatus of 16 months this week I have (finally) resumed work on authoring books. While this is a large task and won't end soon, it doesn't advance unless I do the work. Happily, I now have the time and motivation to set aside two half days a week (Tuesday and Friday mornings) to establish some momentum on this. And who knows, if it goes well enough I might throw more time at it. This last Tuesday was my first day back in the saddle.

I notice (with chagrin) that I have allowed all manner of things to get between me and this task since Jan 3, 2015—the last time I'd worked on his prior to Tuesday:

—relocating (twice, no less: first to NC, then to MN)
—heavy workload (both as a process consultant and as FIC's main administrator)
—preference for things I can easily complete (I have a marked tendency to favor tasks I can complete in one or two sittings; as a result, longer term projects tend to languish)

Cancer has helped me digest the uncertainty of how much time I have left in this veil of tears, and given me the impetus to shake things up a bit, pushing to the side the less important to concentrate on those things that might do the most good in the world. In essence, my writing will be an attempt to draw together what I've learned over the last 66 years—especially over the last 42, my time immersed in community.
Although I've become a steady writer, almost all of that has come in short pieces: articles, reports, and blog posts. Now it's time to draw them together by theme, fill in the blanks, and develop a uniform voice.

As I envision it, the work will flow in stages.

Step 1: Review what I have
Ironically, in order to produce a quality book, the very first thing I need to do is a ton of reading. Both of my work (see below) and of my contemporaries on the same subjects, to see what is is already out there.

With respect to reviewing my own work, I can't imagine how this would proceed without a computer, where it's all stored in one place and relatively easily accessed.

This necessitates rereading: 
—all 982 of my published blog entries (from December 2007 forward) 
—all my reports to groups that hired me as a process consultant (from 1987 forward)
—all my published articles (mainly for Communities magazine, for which I've contributed six or seven annually since FIC became the publisher in 1994)
—handouts for my facilitation training program (there are about 100)
—handouts for the dozen or so standard workshops that I offer

It's a gob.

To be sure, there is considerable overlap among these sources, some writing is more about whimsy and bemusement than trenchant insight, some I no longer believe, and some is irrelevant. So I anticipate that there will be an enormous amount of winnowing.

Step 2: Sort my extant writing into themes
When I first conceived of writing a book, it didn't take me long to figure out that I was really talking about a number (or possibly a series) of books. So I sat down and thought through what all the topics might be and came up with 17 different categories! 

It was important to have that framing done at the outset so that everything could be sorted and logged as I reviewed it. Now, as I read something, it either gets consciously (if lovingly) dumped, or placed in one or more of those 17 categories—all of which are potential books (if I live long enough and remain sufficiently motivated).

After the sorting, I'll review the raw material for each topic and contemplate whether there is enough there to warrant a book, proceeding only when my head and belly both say "yes!" (I'm confident that the book total will ultimately consolidate into a number far smaller than 17.)

Step 3: Develop each book individually
All those passing the previous hurdle will be worked from two ends: a) what have I already written (that I still believe is germane and true) and what are the holes; and b) if I started from scratch on this theme what do I think I have to say (I want to guard against missing some big picture, whole forest elements by focusing too much on individual trees).

It's possible, I think, that some of what makes it past Step 2 will stumble in Step 3 and get washed up on the shore. That is, once I get down to the nitty gritty of what I have to say, I may not be all that impressed, resulting in my pulling the plug on a particular theme.

Step 4: Bring in the red pencils
Once I'm satisfied with an overall outline, I'll pause and bring in editorial assistance to help me with conceptualization. I already have one or two friends and peers lined up who know me well, know my subjects well, and have editorial skill and experience. They are willing to help me assess what I have and what's missing.

Once we are agreed on what needs to happen it will be my job to fill in the blanks, craft bridging language, develop supporting graphics, etc.

There is a large creative opportunity lying in this segment of the work, where I need to make decisions about how to reach my audience. Effective writing is much more than cogent ideas well connected; it is also finding ways to make my ideas accessible and compelling to the reader. That means deciding who my audience is and how I think my work will be used.

While I'm sure I will rely on stories to supply vivid examples of the points I want to make, I have a choice between developing a fictional cooperative group that I can use repeatedly throughout the book, or actual live examples from my years in the field.

Step 5: Complete a draft and get it edited
This section could take a while unless I'm highly disciplined. My sense is that it will be important that I work steadily here to bridge the gaps, establish the connections from one point to the next, and flesh out the main ideas.

Following this stage will be another round of review, done at a finer level. First, copy editing, and then proofing, until everyone is smiling.

Step 6: Get the book laid out
Here I'll rely on friends and compatriots even more. While I will unquestionably have opinions about layout (as well as title and cover design—hell, I have opinions about everything), I will defer to others who are more skilled than I am in these arenas. Graphic design is not my forte.

Step 7: Identify a publisher
There are some interesting choices here and I am undecided at this point how best to proceed. Essentially there are three forks in the road: a) self-publish; b) ask FIC to publish; or c) seek an alternative press to publish. Although potential income is a factor, my biggest focus will be on the help I can expect in promoting the book. I don't particularly want to take the lead on that, yet I have a healthy respect for how much of a difference good promotion and marketing can make in a book's reach, and I want my books to be well distributed.

Further, I'll want enough editorial control that the publisher won't monkey with my main points. It's fine for them to ask questions and to push me about things they find unclear or disagreeable, but I don't want there to be any doubt about who's driving the boat.

1 comment:

Maril said...

My dear friend, you've bitten off quite a lot -- as you say, "a gob." I hope you won't isolate yourself too much as you dive into this project. And please keep in mind, if I may be so audacious as to offer a bit of advice, that surrounding yourself with the energies of love, peace, joy, and more love is the project of the first order as you prepare yourself for your stem cell transplant.