Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Book ~ In Process

I recently read a column in which the author claimed that no one who says they are writing a book will never, ever finish writing a book.

This made me neurotic for a little while. Had I already told too many people that I'm writing a book? Should I delete all references to it? Do I need to invent a fake job as cover? Is it already too late?

I've decide instead to throw caution to the wind and tell you all about my book-writing process thus far. See that big pile of paper to the right of my laptop? That's my book.

Also can you see the sad cracks on my laptop screen from the day I left it on the couch and someone must have sat on it?

Please don't ask me if it's done yet. Writing a book, in my experience, is not like baking a lasagne, where you prepare all of the parts, put them together, and toss it in the oven until it's all bubbly. It's like making a lasagna if you individually make each part from scratch (including growing the tomatoes), put it all together, bake it until it's bubbly, then take it out, taste the whole thing, then take it all apart, scrape the cheese and sauce off of the noodles, add different seasonings, switch out the spinach for eggplant, add some sausage, then take it back out again, then put it all together again, bake until bubbly, then repeat, several more times until it actually tastes good (or, possibly, turns into an inedible mass of burnt cheese and noodles). Have I taken this metaphor too far?

When we returned from our hike on the Colorado Trail last year, I spent the next couple of months transcribing my journals, adding from memory, rewriting as I went along, and dropping the notes from my first Colorado Trail hike into the document at about the same geographical points. I finished this process the day before the election, after which I went into a bit of a tailspin. I can see now that I needed a bit of temporal and emotional distance from the material, but I would have been perfectly happy to attain this break another way. After a couple of months' hiatus, I spent some time working on shorter pieces which helped me step away from the whole big huge manuscript and focus on specific themes and ideas and begin to process the experience.

Around that same time (January) I also started The Artist's Way, which entails daily writing of three pages, long-hand. Several weeks into TAW, I started to work on my book again, three pages a day, long-hand (coincidence?). This helped me put together my introduction (which has since become Chapter 1). Beginning around February, I printed out my journal notes, one section at a time, and retyped them into a fresh document, revising, researching, and incorporating the first hike as I went along. After a few months of this incredibly slow process, I put a hold on the research and focused instead on retyping/revising/incorporating only (putting in bracketed "research ski industry/spruce budworm/mineral belt" as placeholders). Summer threw me for another loop, what with kids home all day and a big road trip and the sun and the beach and stuff, so that by the time my writing retreat came, I was about two sections, or 60 pages, shy of finishing this process.

Nevertheless, I printed out all I had finished as well as all I hadn't and took the stack of paper and several different colored pens to the artist colony, where I wrote all over the manuscript in a color-coded system (teal=general edits/changes/revisions; pink=find a better word; orange=research; lime green=write better). Now I'm going through that stack of paper, incorporating the edits into my draft and doing research as I go along. I'm up to Chapter 5, which is about where I stopped researching during the first go-round, so I expect the process to s-l-o-w-w-a-y-d-o-w-n again.

During a session at a writing conference this summer, one of the panelists described revision as smoothing out a scarf—you start at one corner and push the wrinkles ahead of you, coming back to that first corner again and again and again. I've been holding this image in my mind—the scarf (book) doesn't have to be ironed flat with each step, just smoothed out a little more than before.

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