Three months from today I’m releasing a book. Last week I wasn’t even sure how to begin the second chapter.
It’s a little weird to be writing a book and to not be sure where you’re going. This happens all the time in fiction, at least for me. I have a pretty good sense of the beginning, some pivotal scenes in the middle, and the ending, but not the other scenes, the way-stations on the way to my big moment.
This can be even more dismaying when you’re trying to write non-fiction. There’s a certain level of expertise in your field of study you’re supposed to have. You’re trying to be a teacher, while at the same time you’re a student, a researcher. There are times when you’re not sure you know enough, and other moments of insight when everything seems to fit together.
I guess in both these cases it’s a matter of showing your work.
When I was writing my rough draft of DM I had about five or six movie scenes that would replay in my mind, at various points in the story. Answers to the questions I’d been laying out, pivotal alliances, betrayals, action sequences. But those moments were just mindless action without the context of the text around it.
For non-fiction this seems to come up even more. I’ve had the answer to the second chapter for over a month now, a working program that does what it is supposed to do, but no real idea as to how it did it. More than anything my goal is to write about this subject in a way that is understandable to enthusiasts not experts. To describe processes and methods without the technicalities, to show every step that I can of how I got from one page to the next.
Last weekend I was working hard, finishing my first chapter, and working out the notes for the second and third. The little red haired girl was away and so I decided to pull half a college all-nighter, working til about 2am in the morning. HIMYM may think nothing good happens after 2am but writers know better. This is when our minds our tired, our defenses down, and the work we’ve been doing for hours finally has a chance to spin around and make connections. I understood what I’d been staring at for weeks, and in a few days I was writing furiously on the next chapter, confident there was actually something I had to say.
What’s the takeaway from this experience? That hard work and determination will eventually lead to a solution. Maybe. In fiction one of the best ways to get from point A to B was to keep writing, and if I cut a few days worth of writing in revision it was worth it for the gems that were left. For this project it’s a little different yet the same. I’m trying to keep it in my head, while at the same time trying to attack it from all different angles, working for hours or just a few minutes, sitting in my office or a coffee shop. Reading a book on the Kindle or a hard-copy.
Some people need to keep a routine, a set process for how they bang out a days work, and so do I. It’s just that my routine is to switch it up all the time.
I’m at the midpoint of my non-fiction project. There’s less written then I would have hoped by this point, and yet I am excited. Having a deadline is good for me, and truly engaging with a subject in a deep and meaningful way is something I don’t have a lot of excuse to do. I’ll keep trying to share any lessons I learn, but the simplest is this:
Write, whether you feel like it or not, wherever and however you want.