Home > Books, The Accident > The Stages of Writing A Book

The Stages of Writing A Book

In talking with people about my recent book, The Accident:  A Bike, A Truck, & A Train, a few have expressed their own desire to write a book.  (I suggest anyone who wants to write a book read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.)  The idea of seeing your own words in print, of sharing your thoughts and ideas with the world, can be quite alluring.   Yet, that journey involves a number of different stages, most of them challenging and some of them quite unpleasant.

Stage One:  The IDEA.  You have an idea for a book.  As you sound it out in your head, the words flow effortlessly.  It seems so clear in your head.  “This thing is going to write itself,” you tell yourself, “unlike those other five books, which were as much fun as stirring concrete.”  You may even look dismissively at the shelf or cabinet or drawer where those books rest.  You try not to think of the hours you wasted on those works.

But this idea is different.  This one is going to be fun.

FYI-  Stage one tends to be the most emotionally pleasurable stage.  If I had to venture a guess, it’s because no work is involved.  Everybody has ideas.  Putting the idea on paper in a coherent and entertaining manner is where it gets hard.

Stage Two:  The First Draft.  “What happened?” is the question that will haunt you.  What happened to that great idea in my brain, the one that seemed so brilliant and easy?  Maybe I should’ve stuck a recorder to my brain, then this might’ve turned out better.

The self-doubts might start to creep in after the first paragraph or the first chapter, but they will come.  “How could I have been so wrong?  This isn’t a great idea, it’s the worst idea ever!”

Your cat, if you owned a cat and if cats could read, would puke if she read this sorrowful waste of a tree.

Stage Three:  Editing.  Endless editing.  Nobody publishes their first draft for good reason (except bloggers).  It is in the editing stage where you try to find that great idea that started you down this path to begin with.  The work starts sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph.  You add some things and you subtract quite a bit.  You move things around.  Some days, that excitement about the project returns and at other times, well, it’s best not to think about those days.  You alternate between waves of excitement and waves of putridness (at which point you think those waves of excitement were the result of a delusional mind or the half-dozen chocolate chip cookies you inhaled.)

Stage Four:  The false finish.  You finally did it.  You finished your book.  It can’t possibly be any better.  With excitement and an unhealthy dose of fear, you deposit this pile of paper into the hands of a very small circle of friends.  You hope (and pray) that if they find anything wrong, they’ll let you down gently.  Despite your hopes (“Don’t change a thing!”), they will find some things that need work.  After wishing a slow and painful death on them (silently, of course), you start to find the value in their feedback (some of it, not all of it).

Stage Five:  Finished (the other false finish known as proofreading, copy-editing, formatting, and designing).  In this stage, sanity leaves.  A wider circle of insensitive people are providing you with unwanted feedback on your book.  You sense the bitterness and defensiveness growing within you.  Murderous feelings come to mind.  You have one wish:  to be done with this book and onto another great idea because the other ideas you have will be easier than the one you’re currently working on.

Stage Six:  Publication.  It’s out.  People can buy it.  You have a hidden expectation that people will rush out to buy it or download instantly.  Yet, that doesn’t happen.  Copies start selling, but nothing changes.  Life goes on.

To keep yourself from going crazy, from constantly re-checking your sales ranking, or from thinking about your book, you start working on that next great idea that you have.  At the very least, you hope to distract your mind.

Stage Seven:  Reviews.

Me:  “What did you think?”

Other person whose opinion I once respected:  “Well…”

This is why their opinion was once respected.

But when people start telling you that they laughed out loud, that it helped them deal with their own similar situation, or that they no longer feel alone in the world, that means something.  It helps to know that the hours you spent slogging away in front of a screen inspired, entertained, or helped another person.

And fifty positive responses might help you forget the two negative ones.  Might.

At the end of the process, after your book has been out for awhile, people will ask what your favorite part of writing a book was.  I suspect that they think you’ll say “Being published” or “The great feedback” or “The acclaim and recognition.”  But, when you give it some thought, at least for me, you say, “Stage three.  Editing.  Not because editing is fun, it’s not, but as you string together nouns and verbs into sentences and paragraphs you find a way to express yourself that you otherwise wouldn’t have.  You find what inspired you to sit down and start writing in the first place.”

They might not understand.  “What about all the nice things people say to you?”

“Don’t get me wrong.  I like that too.  My ego is just as out of control as the next person.  But if I put in all this effort on the hopes of getting positive feedback, I might be closer to a straight jacket than I previously thought.”

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Categories: Books, The Accident
  1. S.Z. Williams
    February 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I’m on stage three and endless is the perfect way to describe it. Endless endless suffering.

  2. Brianna Westcoast
    August 24, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    You know, I’m basically a kid. I’m eleven years old and I’ve written several books, and I’ve been writing since I was three. I never used this site before, and I tried it, it’s like going to school. Well done Chris.

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