30 January 2010
Now I’ve nearly finished, I thought it might be of interest to share the experience of writing a book while simultaneously holding down a 55-hour-a-week City job and investing heavily in one’s parents.
The experience entails doing two full-time, full-on, high-commitment things at the same time. One involves constantly moving and always keeping 10 balls in the air. The other requires a cool head, a clear mind and deep, hard, systematic thought. They pull your brain opposite ways in a 24-hour cycle of cerebral freeze-thaw – a recipe for mental disorientation and emotional fatigue.
Next, don’t underestimate the very large amount of time it takes to write (or edit, or copyedit) a book. If you sit down on Saturday morning then work straight through until Sunday evening, you take a stride forward. If you do anything else during your weekend, you don’t; which means you don’t just lose a weekend, you lose a week. That’s another week of holding it together through an all-consuming process which crowds everything else out, while life passes by and the rest of the world moves on.
A lot of people have other plans: “You don’t have to work on Sundays,” “You could make time if you wanted,” or “You need to do XYZ.” That’s all bollocks, but arguing the point gets naff all done. Every available moment must be used for getting your head down and getting on with it. When you get on a train: you work. Client meetings in distant cities? A boon. Travel time is work time. Five hours on the train to Edinburgh? Gold dust.
On the weekday evenings I get home, charge around completing chores then, with no chill time, fall into bed, head all over the place, to get rested for another 11-hour day in the City. At the weekends I’m always obsessively focussed on crossing that next bridge: get this bit finished, polish that chapter, send this one for review, action that review, talk to this reviewer.
Here’s a slightly simplified account of the review process I’ve been following with the chapters which came together between June 2008 and October 2009.
I take the woven, polished and spellchecked chapters and give them to six people. Those people are all literate, informed and belligerent. They’ve all left their fingerprints on my copy and they all bring their personalities to the process – a bread and butter of constructive criticism, with a garnish of diplomacy and thick lashings of argument. During the early stages those arguments were about structure and concepts, but soon they moved onto specific ideas, then the ordering of ideas, the flow, the sentence structure, then the metre of words. Now we mainly discuss commas. It’s amazing how opinionated some of them are about commas.
After going through that process six times I take the six reviews, incorporate them into the master copy, repolish, reformat, then post the chapter in question to my ‘reviewer of last resort’, a student of the classics, who picks it apart once again.
That sharpening process might seem long-winded and labour-intensive, but I’ve written a two-year travel story of heartbreak, talking bicycles and attacks by killer bees. Embedded in the narrative isn’t only a pantheistic religious proposal, but also a world view incorporating twenty-first century ideas of anthropology, environmental science, history and physics. Everything has to be accessible, it must all flow and there are gags on every page. Getting it right means a lot of different threads have to weave together. My review system may be elaborate, but I need to get material that intense: crisp, error-free and harmoniously balanced. It’s a big ask.
The next battle – the one just coming into view – is to sell it as a product. Ready for it?
Spoiling for it.
Word of the day: apparatgeist (German) meaning ‘the spirit of the machine’.
Minutes per month spent by the human race on mobile phones in 2009: 1 trillion
What 1 trillion minutes equated to in total man hours: 2 million years worth