Evolution of a Book

The idea for Wild Women, Wild Voices came out of the Wild Women writing workshops I’ve done for many years, dating back to the mid-90s, but it wasn’t until August, 2013 when one morning I suddenly found myself writing a mini-proposal to my editor at New World Library. A little less than a month later I had a signed contract with a pub date of Summer 2014. Fortunately for me, the pub date got bumped to February 2015, then, even more fortunately, to its current release date of NOW!

box o' booksIn between the signing of the contract and the arrival of the books in bookstores and at my doorstep — some 18 months later, a gestation period more akin to an elephant than a human being — are many, many steps. First the idea, which was already in place, but an idea isn’t the same thing as a book. So you build the skeleton (structuring all those bare bones into some kind of coherent form), and do the research. You scratch out the terrible and lengthy first, raw drafts, followed by more research, followed by the second, third, fourth, etc. etc. drafts, and finally, months later, the final draft goes to your editor.

WWWV page proofsThen begins the next cycle: her edits and your rewrites from her edits; the long email exchanges and occasional panicky (on my part; she never panics) phone calls; next the more final final draft and the book goes to the copy editor. Another cycle: the copy editor’s edits, the revises from her edits, the proofreader’s edits, then the revises from her edits, the page proofs (this is where you get to see how the book really looks and where you grin so big your cheeks hurt), then a few corrections and the printer check arrives (this is how the book really really looks), just these last few tiny details, and then, for the longest time: Silence. You hold your breath. The book has gone to the printer.

All along during the back and forths before the book goes to the printer, you’re getting permissions where they’re needed, you’re double-checking references, you’re asking writers you admire if they’d be so kind and generous to “blurb” your book. They are! You’re all giddy and a little shy at what they write. You file away printouts of the first, messy drafts and say a prayer of gratitude for your editor who you’ve come to believe has special, magical powers that mere writers can never hope to possess. (Enduring gratitude to Georgia Hughes)

Judy ReevesYou get a new author photo taken. Your son, a talented photographer, takes several. He’s a patient man. In the end, it’s the very first one he snapped that you choose. You ask if he can, um, touch up a few places. He just smiles.

Also during the back and forth, you get to see the first draft of cover images. It may take a few tries to finally get the cover image everyone agrees on, but it’s worth it. You’re crazy about the cover. (Thank you, Tracy Cunningham). This is also when you find out your book will have an Index. Your first Index!

The in-between is also the time you to see the interior design of the book. Beautiful! Tona Pearce Myers has done it again. And again, you thank whatever benevolent spirit or lucky stars or whom- or whatever is responsible for you getting to have this long and rewarding relationship with New World Library, a publishing company that has brought so many beautiful and important books to the world.

The in-between time is also when you begin dialogues with the marketing staff and once again, you realize how fortunate you are to work with such pros. This is also when you start to get a little anxious and you remember that writing the book is just the half of it. Now you’re required to become a marketing pro yourself. And much as you like to give talks and make presentations and how easily you can go on and on about other writers’ work, making a Big Noise about your own work is a bit intimidating. You remember what your mother said: “Don’t brag on yourself, it’s not attractive.” So there’s that dragon to beat down. Plus you know you don’t know an iota of what you should know about social media.

To be continued …

20 Ways to Make It Better (#3)

#3 Get It Down

Just Write Board Game

The most important thing about writing? Writing. Getting the words on the page. How to do it? Keep your pen moving. Or your fingers dancing on those keys. Never mind if you don’t know where you’re going. Just go. If you trust yourself and the process, what you want to write will show up on the page. Not in its final form, not all polished and pretty and ready for glory, but somewhere within the mess you made will be that image, that phrase, that line of dialogue. What you’d never come up with if you’d tried to “think” it on the page.

Begin anywhere. Write anything. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. You can clean it up later. Don’t stop to re-read or edit or fix. When you do, you move from that white-hot place of intuition and imagination and into a cerebral place of judging, evaluating, analyzing. There’s a time and place for that, but not in the first flush of creating. One of the advantages of keeping the hand moving is that you can keep ahead of the editor, the critic, and the censor. And maybe, if you’re very lucky and very fast, you can even outpace your ego.

There are dozens of methods to just getting it down: timed, focused writings; free-writes; writing in group; writing against deadline. Try setting up word counts or pages or time limits for yourself, make writing dates with someone else, or with yourself (put it on your calendar — in ink). Use writing prompts or writing exercises to get started (I know a great book that has a prompt for every day). Get writing assignments from someone else, or from any number of writing books. (My current favs are Naming the World, Now Write!, What If?, and Abigail Thomas’s Thinking About Memoir.) Having someone else — a coach, a writing buddy, a writing group, to report in to can help, too. Making bets, giving yourself rewards, bribery. I do some of all of these. (I especially like the rewards part.) Find out what works for you and then, as the saying goes, Just Do It!

What’s your best bet for just getting it down?


Hearing Voices

Voices in our headsEvery writer has voices that speak to us. I’m not talking about characters who want their story told. The voices I’m talking about are the other voices: Those quiet little whispers, those petty insults, the boring nattering that goes on and on. Threats, blackmail, hissing and nagging, they’re all there. I’ve never heard a writer say that any of these voices is sweet or kind or encouraging. Mostly they’re mean-spirited and hard-hearted, they say things you’d never say to your best friend. Or even to someone you don’t like.

These voices – I’ve identified the major ones as the Editor, the Critic, the Censor – get in the way of our writing and even have the power to stop us from writing altogether. These natterers of negativity, to paraphrase Spiro Agnew, carry ancient messages from some underworld place that we picked up along the way, usually when we were very, very young. Yet here we are, adults with creative and often brilliant minds, still listening to them, still believing them, and still allowing them to live rent-free inside our heads. These voices do not serve us. They are not on our side. They come from fear and everyone knows that which comes from fear is small-minded and has bad breath.

Red PencilsLet’s talk about the Editor. The editor isn’t really a bad guy, some of my best friends are editors, but this voice can be pushy and often suffers from bad timing. This is the one that makes you cross out a perfectly good word and search for a better one. It sends you off to rifle through the dictionary, double-check the name of a mountain and Google a street map of Portland—all the places you don’t need to go when you’re still in the intuitive, creative mode. The editor can help us when we need correct grammar, when punctuation matters, when we need to get our facts straight and especially during the revision process and double-especially before we hit the “send” button or drop that manuscript in the mail. But it doesn’t help when we are in the throes of creating; here we need free rein to let ‘er rip.

One of the ways to by-pass the editor when you’re free-writing or during a writing practice session is to keep the pen moving or the fingers flying. Once you stop, you’re a goner—especially if you go back to reread what you’ve just flung down on the page. That’s when you’ll hear a little ahem, and the crisp, self-important voice of the editor will step in and tell you what’s incorrect about what you’ve just written. Or where you might want a stronger verb or that you’ve just violated a parallel construction or split your infinitive. You’ll be rewriting before you actually get anything written. This is why we don’t go back and reread what we’re writing while in the process of writing it. You can’t create and edit at the same time. So tell the Editor you appreciate its knowledge and many abilities, but how about taking a coffee break while you continue to get the first draft down.

I call my editor Al, in honor of my first mentor, Al JaCoby, whom I worked for a hundred years ago (and wouldn’t he haul out his red pencil for that sentence construction).

How do you shut off the Editor’s voice in your head?

Next time: The Critic and The Censor