I'm honored to have been selected to host Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama, today. If you haven't read Writer Mama, it's a must. (Read on to see how you can win a copy!) This little book, just shy of 300 pages, packs a punch! Christina guides readers through the writing process with wisdom and advice, humor and clarity, confidence and encouragement.
One point from the book that really resonated with me was the idea of hats. (Yes, hats!) As mamas, we are used to wearing different hats as our children grow: disciplinarian, cheerleader, nutritionist, storyteller. Christina realized that the same is true of writers. As your writing career grows, you've got to be your own disciplinarian and cheerleader while also trying on the hats of: accountant, researcher, editor, marketer.
Christina's daily posts throughout this blog tour not only express this concept but also explore how to succeed in each of those roles throughout the book-writing process. And, today it continues with advice on first drafts. Enjoy!
The Writer Mama Two-Year Anniversary Blog Tour Giveaway! (Catch up on the past posts here: http://thewritermama.wordpress.com/)
Post #16: The Nonfiction Book Writing Process: The First Draft
I can’t presume to know what works best for everyone when it comes time to draft your first book. But I have written a couple first drafts of nonfiction books and I have also been privy to the processes of other successful authors.
I say “successful authors” intentionally because the fact is not all books that are contracted make it across the publication finish line. Now, I imagine no writer wants to talk about this but we must. The fact is: when it comes to following through on a book contract, some writers won’t deliver. My editor, Jane Friedman at Writer’s Digest once shared with me that she kept a “book graveyard” on her bulletin board for books that were conceived but not delivered.
Feel free to shudder. What a discouraging experience! I hope it never happens to you.
Suffice it to say, you don’t want to be that writer who doesn’t deliver and you can avoid it by setting yourself up for success. Here are some of the ways I’ve seen success happen:
Keep in touch with your editor from the verbal offer all the way through the delivery of the partial first draft. Editors typically ask for a partial draft to assess that the book is on track, as agreed, and to have an opportunity to offer editorial direction before the book is complete. This is a good thing. Listen to your editor and try to find the wisdom in her suggestions. I can tell you from my experience that this collaborative attitude will create a better book.
Steer the ship
Even though you keep in touch with your editor, be careful not to imagine that she is overly consumed with your book’s progress. She isn’t. It’s quite likely that your editor is juggling many book projects on top of additional, and likely increasing responsibilities related to the overall success of the publishing company. With the economy being what it is, don’t be surprised if your editor’s job is in a precarious position. She may still be your editor by the time your book is done. Then again, she may not. Don’t worry, book projects get handed off from editor to editor. Once you get past a certain development point with your manuscript, your editor might hand you off to another editor so she can focus on acquisitions and new book development. Hang steady and roll with it. Your responsibility is to complete your book to the best of your ability no matter what is going on at your book’s publishing house.
Refine the focus
The more clear and refined your book proposal table of contents, the easier it is going to be for you, as the writer, to write the book in an orderly manner. Don’t forget that most nonfiction books require tons of research, interviewing, and compressing of information, so even if you have a solid TOC, you’ve still got your work cut out for you. If you didn’t refine your TOC, your book will likely benefit if you pause before you start drafting to refine it to the best of your ability. Be sure and run your revised TOC by your editor before you dive in and start writing.
Proceed in an orderly fashion
Sure, you want to take advantage of content discoveries as you go along in the book writing process. But you’ll be in a better position to capitalize on those discoveries the more organized you are. I proceeded in a much more orderly fashion on my second book by creating a file system just for my book research separate from all of my other projects. That way when I got my hands on new research, I could either file it according to chapter or put it in a pile to file later. This way, all of my research was always in one place and close at hand.
Remember that a nonfiction book is not typically “personal experience,” unless it’s a memoir. Most nonfiction books respond to many issues and questions, even after the central thrust of the book has been determined. The more you consider the reader’s questions and concerns as you write the book, the better you can address them in the book.
To say how to best succeed at book drafting, I would repeat my oft-repeated advice that writers are partnering with others, not hoping to be discovered by others. Your job is still your job, even after you sign the contract. I suspect that the writers who didn’t deliver on their manuscripts may have assumed that after landing the book deal, they were home free. But now you know, that once you get to this point, the really hard work has really just begun.
Today's Book Drawing: To enter to win a signed, numbered copy of Writer Mama, answer the following question in this blog's comments:
How organized of a writer are you? Do you have an orderly writing practice that works for you?
Thanks for participating! Only US residents, or folks with a US mailing address can participate in the drawing. Please only enter once per day.
Where will the drawing be tomorrow? Visit http://thewritermama.wordpress.com/ to continue reading the rest of the Writer Mama story throughout March 2009!
Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids by Christina Katz (Writer's Digest Books 2007)
Kids change your life, but they don't necessarily have to end your career. Stay-at-home moms will love this handy guide to rearing a successful writing career while raising their children. The busy mom's guide to writing life, this book gives stay-at-moms the encouragement and advice they need including everything from getting started and finding ideas to actually finding time to do the work - something not easy to do with the pitter-patter of little feet. With advice on how to network and form a a business, this nurturing guide covers everything a writer mama needs to succeed at her second job.