After eight and a half months of work done mostly on a computer screen I held in my hands for the first time a printout of my entire book on Saturday evening. It weighs in at 118-pages (single-spaced) and 48,894 words (about the size of a 180-page book). We have a name picked. Author and manuscript are doing well but tired and recovering. Balloons welcome.
I am very thankful for all your encouragement and prayers over the months and know that my strength for this project has been sustained by God’s grace.
The manuscript is due on November 1 and that’s good because it still needs a fair bit of work. But the trajectory is looking good and I am encouraged where it stands.
Occasionally people ask me when I find the time to write and mostly that work is done in the early morning before I leave for work and also at Starbucks on Mondays (my day off). I initially guessed the book would require a total of 1,000 hours of work and that looks to be accurate. Once I came to that calculation it was all about plodding and putting in the hours.
At some point I’ll drill down and tap into the gusher of lessons I’ve learned during the book writing process (still very much in process) but for now here’s a summary of my book writing procedure:
Stage 1: Outline (Nov, Dec 2009)
For two months I collected ideas and formed my thoughts into a comprehensive outline. The result was a 95-page Word document. Now as I review that initial outline it looks like I used maybe 40-percent of the original ideas, the majority being discarded because it didn’t fit the flow or for for the sake of brevity. I finished the outline in my in-laws basement in Omaha last Christmas. This outline itself is an evidence of grace because I usually just swan dive into project without planning.
Stage 2: Rough draft (Jan, Feb, Mar 2010)
On January 4, 2010 I sat at my computer and began writing chapter one and proceeded consecutively to write each chapter. The first rough draft process required about 10 weeks of time and included one intense 3-day retreat of 18 hour writing days. Once the chapters were written they went to my primary editor (my wife) and then sent them off to the publisher for initial feedback and large-scale edits. As you can imagine, having a gifted editor for a wife is a great blessing of immeasurable value!
Once the rough draft was complete in mid-March, I unplugged and took a three-month break from the book. In June I invested a chunk of my book advance for a week at the beach with the family. My kids love that dad is writing a book.
Stage 3: First draft revisions (final two weeks of July 2010)
The rough drafts went off to my publisher for edits between April and June and edited chapter drafts have been arriving in a steady stream for a couple months. For the last two weeks I worked the changes in and gave each chapter an overall tweak. In the last week I’ve also reworked the book’s subtitle, sharpened the chapter titles, and drafted an introduction.
Stage 4: Second draft rewrite (Sept, Oct 2010)
The new version of the manuscript (the 118-page draft I held in my hands on Saturday) is now being distributed to editors. I don’t plan to work on the manuscript much in the month of August. In early September I’ll launch the second draft rewrite.
To pull manuscript along to this point it was necessary (1) to decide what I wanted to say, (2) to get the ideas on paper, (3) to get those ideas approved (or challenged) and then sharpened by a few initial editors. The manuscript is sharper but it remains quite ‘lumpy.’ In the final two months I’ll be working to smooth out the prose in my second draft rewrite.
The fourth stage is my favorite stage. Here I tighten sentences, trim paragraphs, bridge sentences, smooth transitions, activate verbs, and sprinkle a few images and possibly some humor. Just about every sentence, all section break headings, and even chapter titles will be smoothed out in one way or another so “rewrite” is an accurate term.
Getting to this stage of editing is not automatic for me. For eight months I’ve been a researcher. I have read about 60 books related to my book’s topic; referenced sections of another 100 books, encyclopedias, and commentaries; read a pile of magazine articles; and wrestled through a couple complex journal articles. But now I must change hats from researcher to prose stylist and for me this is more of a brain recalibration, a recalibration that will govern my summer reading. For the next month I’ll be reading books by masters of creative prose stylemanship:
N. D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl. I doubt I have read a more creatively written book in the last five years. This will be my third reading. I know I’ll never write this well but for some reason as I read Wilson I’m motivated to try again.
Christian George, God•o•logy. The book’s size, shape, trim, simple vector cover on the outside and the text size, font, and page layout on the inside are a model for what I would like my little manuscript to grow up and become one day. Christian (son of scholar Timothy George) is a very gifted prose stylist, knows how to write punchy section headings and summary statements, how to transition paragraphs with brief sentences, and how to introduce direct quotes.
Timothy J. Stoner, The God Who Smokes. Stoner is very good at bringing Old Testament narratives to life and in the few places in my book where I attempt to do the same Stoner will be a helpful model. He is, like George, a creative writer of catchy metaphors (i.e. “Quiet dropped like a well-oiled guillotine”).
Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition (Crossway, 2010). Dave is a gifted communicator. After reading his books I come away inspired to write with clarity and with punch. This is his latest book and it’s a wonderful model of style.
Seth Godin, Tribes. I appreciate the simplicity of his writings and his abundant use of section headings. He uses those section breaks as transitions, allowing him to make fairly abrupt turns that save a lot of space. From the beginning of this project I have sought to model this transition-through-section-heading style.
Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made To Stick. A reread for me, this is a wonderful how-to on making ideas sticky and is itself a model of clear/tight writing.
Arthur Plotnik, Spunk and Bite. Apart from his dissing of E. B. White (which is something of a cliché these days), this book is very creative both in principle and example. Chapter 27, “The Earnestly Engaging Sentence,” is especially helpful. This will be my first reread.
Joseph M. Williams, Style. This is one short book on writing clear sentences that I reread as often as possible. For it’s size, I think it’s the most important book on writing I own. Because of it’s size, I often keep it in my backpack.
So that’s an update on the book and little glimpse into my writing process and my summer reading. I’ll be traveling for the next couple of weeks, enjoying the time away. We have some promising audio books all queued up in the van for the 40 hours of driving including another model of creating writing: Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.
Until then, the blog will remain fairly quiet.
Stay thirsty, my friends (1 Pet 2:2).