Thursday, January 20, 2011

Are We There Yet?

A neighbor asked me how far along I am on my latest book. It is an excellent question to ask, but a difficult one to answer. I used to think—long, long ago—that books were written in a linear fashion, especially books that would seemingly follow a chronology of events—a person’s life or an episode in history. I have learned that it is not the case.

It would be nice and neat, and cause me many fewer headaches if books could be written in a linear fashion, but it just isn’t possible. Why? There are many reasons. I think the biggest one, though, is that the more understanding I gain on a topic, the more complex I understand it to actually be. And those complexities generally reveal themselves as I am moving forward, which makes me realize I have to stop and go back to further clarify and revise; do more research and revise; read something else and revise. Translation: throughout the entire process of writing a book I continuously and simultaneously move forwards and backwards, which means I never really know how far along I am until I am done.

One might wonder if I could avoid this if I did enough homework before beginning to write. To me, this is one of the most interesting parts of being a writer, because the answer is no. The preparation doesn’t end when the writing begins.

There is a huge cognitive difference between understanding something enough to, say, carry on a conversation about it at a dinner party and making that understanding solidified and concrete enough to stand up to the page. Once your understanding begins to take the shape of an actual thesis in black and white you must analyze and evaluate your statements in a more objective way. Now that they are staring back at you—nay, challenging you—you must ask yourself—have I got it right? Have I captured the nuances of this issue and presented it with clarity? Have I been fair and accurate? Is it compelling?

So, dear neighbor, how far along am I on my next book? About 70%, give or take about 30%.


Cheryl Harness said...

Yup, you write the first sentence and who knows where the road will take you and what you'll learn along the way.

Dana W. Fisher said...

Hi Tanya,
Jamie McKenzie (and we librarians who spend lots of time trying to teach research skills) would love your post. Your methods perfectly illustrate McKenzie's Research Cycle.

I love learning about the creative process of others.
Thank you,
Dana Fisher
The Quilted Librarian