Everyone probably has their own way of going about writing a book, but I bet there’s a fairly common series of steps.
1. The Writing Journal
Practically essential (for those who are into writing journals, anyway) for initial ideas and ongoing notes. I can’t have enough of these things. The one above has about 1/3 of the pages unused, but once I finished using it for Pretty Much True…, I figured I’d need a new one for the next project. (Yes, need. And then I needed another one for the project I imagined I might someday work on years from now. What? Writers need journals like chefs need good knives!)
The unused pages don’t go to waste, though. They’re good for jotting notes to Ian or folding in half and turning into bookmarks.
2. The Writing in the Writing Journal
It’s not enough to carry it around – it should be used. You may not remember all of your notes…in fact, while taking pictures of this today I found some notes I had no idea about and was glad I didn’t follow…but there’s always sure to be something really, really valuable in there. Having it with you most of the time is a good idea for the person who has a lot of ideas while they’re doing other things. I used to think I’d remember my brilliant ideas because, well, how could anyone forget a brilliant idea? But invariably, ten minutes later, *poof.*
Journals are also fun to have because, years after you’ve finished your book and you can’t imagine it any other way, you see all the other ideas you had. These pages remind me that not only did I have a few bad title ideas, but also that I had a completely different ending in mind.
Once the book is “done” (that is, once the last page is written), it’s unbelievably helpful to print every page and read it through, beginning to end. I don’t know why, but there are things I caught on paper that I never would have caught looking at it on the screen. It’s just different. Period. (More on the kinds of things you notice a little further down.)
3. The Binder
I kept Pretty Much True… (seen here with its original title) in a binder, and with my rough, at-home-designed-and-printed-on-regular-paper cover on the front. I’d printed a couple versions of a cover while writing, and I kept each incarnation of the cover taped to a set of shelves next to my desk so I’d see it while I was writing. It helped to imagine it being finished. A real, complete book with a cover and everything.
(I really should do that for the one I’m writing now…)
The binder held (and still holds) all things Pretty Much True…- related.
a. Notes by helpful readers, to whom I am forever indebted
This person’s feedback was absolutely invaluable. I met him on an online writers site and he read
and commented on each one. Unbelievably generous. That he’s an exceptional writer, and also a former editor, was a bonus, too. He wasn’t the only one to offer feedback, and I have to say…I’m incredibly fortunate to know so many people who read critically and carefully. Ian, my husband, is one of the best critics to have given me advice about PMT. Never underestimate the value of early readers – without them, PMT would have been a completely different book.
b. The book
Exhibit A (of A) showing the “completely different book”: The original first page
This page is actually the first run at the second draft. The first draft was in third-person and had a character named Terri before, 80 single-spaced pages into it, I started over from page one. I think I deleted the original 80 pages.
(I don’t recommend deleting 80 pages in most cases.)
Things you notice when the book changes form:
1. Word choice and unnecessary details
2. All kinds of other things
Once the first paper draft has been carefully dissected and corrected, the whole thing is pretty much done.
(*Snort* Not really. At least, not in this case. Because, at some point, the 8.5 x 11 pages will turn into a book, which is a whole different form to be read. And what’s amazing about reading the book as a book is how many more things stand out.)
Things that stand out when reading a book that now looks like a book:
1. Unnecessary details & dialogue, and unnatural sounding dialogue
2. The importance of having just the right insult
Once that version has been picked at a few times, it’s probably safe to say “done.”
Pictures make it look like nothing, and talking about it makes it sound like nothing. But it’s really such a process, and one that was too easy to forget. Writing the book I’m writing now, I keep thinking, “This should be easier. I should be able to get it all down, do it all right, the first time. Pretty Much True… was so simple. There was no second-guessing or stressing or mulling or hair-tearing. Why isn’t this one like that!?”
Clearly, I’ve forgotten a lot (everything?) about that experience.
Writing a book must be like childbirth (which I haven’t experienced): you forget the pain once it’s over. And then, like a crazy person, you want to do it again.