Sunday, March 30, 2014

So You Want to Write a Book

For the Annual Meeting for The New England Museum Association they have a Pecha Kucha night where we get to mush big, or special, or special big topics into 20 slides, 20 seconds each.  It is an excellent processing challenge I enjoy, so I tried to condense my writing/publishing experience (and my confusion at why I keep writing books) into that time frame, with a bit of song-dance-acting-and confessions all rolled into it. 

Preparing it was an excellent diversion from working on my current book on Environmental Sustainability at History Museums and Historic Sites.  I can't put all the images here, but I'll put a few....
1.    So – you want to write a book. We all think about it and it’s time it was out in the open - We all have fantasies.
2.    We dream of NPR interviews. And we imagine that oh-so-delicious feeling of sliding that book – your book – into the book case.  Seeing your name there on the spine as it sits on the shelf with the others you’re going to write some day...
3.    Like any sane person, you dream of money. But sane people don’t write books for niche markets like the museum field.  You’ll get 8% unless you have a co-author and then it’s less.  And have you ever seen a book sell at full price on Amazon?
        4.    Still, you’ve agreed to do this thing and there is a deadline.  So you collect all your ideas and you review the outline. Then you pitch it because it’s boring and you start over. And you write a new one which turns out to be just like the old one with a few embellishments. So it’s really time for inspiration.
        5.    After all – this has to be best thing you’ve ever written. You relax and let the ideas come to you. You assign the tough parts to your subconscious, and you start thinking about all the great things you’ll put in the book. Soon you are so excited that it’s time to start writing. 
6.    Choosing the right writing spot is critical.  I love a porch – fresh air, nature, a slight breeze, it all helps the ideas flow.  But coffee shops are more productive. You can’t just stare out in space, you have to at least look productive and you can’t duck-in to do the laundry or dishes.
7.    But I really write, in the office, at a desk with my butt in my seat, it’s all about butts in seats.  This is where you will pin down the thoughts, organize them, and finish the work. Music can help.
8.    Music - I love working to music, but writing words while listening to a song like BRAVE will just have me up dancing and singing, and there will be no typing happening. For me, music with words is contra-indicated. 
9.    Now LAST OF THE MOHICANS, with all that Dah, dah, dah dah, dah dah, dah, dah, is perfect for typing.  A little Celtic music, and some George Winston work well too, even PIRATES of the CARRIBEAN or MASTER and COMMANDER work.  
10.  What if you don’t type?  I write the first draft long-hand; it helps me really think things out.  Then I read it into the computer.  And I am careful not to listen to music with words while talking to the computer...    I choose my approach based on my mood.  Sometimes my mood needs a little help....
11.  Bribery – I love coffee, but if I have too much. then it’s hard to keep my butt in the seat. So I also bribe myself with peppermint patties.  If I finish a chapter or a case study, I get a peppermint patty.  The peppermint patties live at the store.  I have to walk there to get them. If they lived at home there would be too much of my butt in my seat. 
12.  Wine is a good antidote to coffee; it helps me relax and really get the ideas flowing. Plus I have to edit this stuff, anyway, so it doesn’t matter about spelling and punctuation when I’m on the wine. 
 13.  One day you are finally done.  You skip off to the post office - yes a print copy and a CD version - and you stand in line and you wonder if anyone notices the aura of a published author around you. They don’t.  And then you realize they wouldn’t because they’re probably not published authors..... You hand it in and skip home …
        14.  ... and on the way you think that you should not have used the hyphenated version of environmental-sustainability quite so often, and then you think of all the other people you should have interviewed, and all the other people who could have written this so much better than you did. This is called Fraud Syndrome. It will fade until ....
         15.  ... one day you’re surprised by this big whopper of an email with all the editor’s changes. Sheesh!  They want you to double-check your references – even though you’re a trained historian and you did that to begin with; and they want you to put a period after the date in every reference!  Well,
16.  You would have done that if had read the author’s guidelines instead of picturing yourself sliding that book into the bookcase; [It’s time for wine], and …wait for it….they want you to not hyphenate "environmental sustainably so much". You do all this because you know they are right, even if you are grumpy, and then you fake-skip to the post office. 
17.  Still - no one in line notices you’re a published author. So, you trudge home swearing you will never to do a hyphenated green thing again. Then you take all the recycling and put it in the garbage.  Then you take the compost and put it in the garbage too. It does not make you feel better. You do penance for your sin by putting it all back.
       18.  But one day a box arrives! It's a box of 20 books you can’t sell because you have   
             appropriately promised to send them to all the kind people you interviewed and who know
             more about this than you do.  So you take out the one copy you’ll keep, and you cry, and you
             have  a glass of champagne and you slide it on the shelf and admire it.
      19.    Well, one day, years later, the second book comes and you open the box and you don’t cry
              but you have two glasses of champagne, and you put it on the shelf next to the first one.Y
              You smile.  Then one day the third book arrives and you open it up, look at it and 
              say "who okayed these colors?" (you did), and "is there anything else in the mail?" And you
              don’t cry, you don’t drink, and you put it on the shelf. (Now you're just getting snooty).
       20.    And then, one year, the fourth one comes and you see how big and fat it is and you say
                “this is getting out of hand”.  But to celebrate you sit on a friends’ porch and drink a glass
                of wine. And slowly an idea comes to you, and you find a scrap of paper and write down a
                few notes, and you realize you are about to do hyphenated green things all over again!

Writing for the museum field isn't exactly earning a living, but it certainly is a great life.

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