How exciting is that? The review copies arrived on my doorstep last night! Even more exciting was that I got to do my very first autographs this morning at my desk as I prepared to send a few copies out to people who asked to review the book. Whew! My name on a book! Autographs! My very shabby-chic writer’s desk! I’m suuuuuuch a writer now 😉
All sarcasm aside, clearly this is awesome. Though I’m already hard at work on the first draft of Theology and Reproductive Justice: Why Reproductive Dignity Matters for the Kindom of God (yes, kindom…you’ll have to read it to find out why), having this first book out in the wild is the culmination of a life’s dream. Though I’ve had my career in librarianship and always assumed writing would be more or less a side gig, having a book with my name on the front and my thoughts and scholarship on the inside was a goal I’ve had in mind since I was a very, very little girl.
As I begin my second book, it’s funny how the process of writing is both easier and also still really, really difficult. It helps that I have a background in both librarianship and research to help me formulate and classify ideas as well as pick out patterns in my thought as well as current scholarship, but the idea of putting together several hundred pages of what should be relatively original thought is still daunting. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.
So, at the (almost) end of my first adventure in publishing, I want to encourage anyone who might be reading this to just go for it. All those fears about whether people will like it, whether you have anything worthwhile to say, will all be worked out in the process. And though it is a process, approach it one bite at a time. Not only will it be more manageable, but it will also make your writing and thinking far more organized. For instance, here’s my own process:
- Gather and read AAAAAALLLLL the scholarship on the subject. Don’t worry at first whether it is too broad. Just read the fuck out of all the scholarship. For my current book, this means reading anything and everything about reproductive justice, reproductive rights, poverty, racism, sexism, classism, etc. That’s a pretty huge chunk of scholarship. But don’t worry about it.
- As you read, start to pick out what interests you the most, what you most argue with, identify with, what you think needs more context. This will start to narrow your research focus.
- Next, pick out themes. For instance, when doing my dissertation on how spiritually-alienated abortion care workers deal with potentially violent workplaces, I began to notice that there were a few broad categories that described how most people were affected. Note that kind of shit down. Color code it if you have to.
- Begin to formulate your thesis (central question – and it should always be a question) more concisely. For me with my present project, this meant narrowing my broad ideas about repro justice and religion down to a single question that is reflected in the title – why is repro justice CENTRAL to the historic and spiritual idea of the Kindom of God?
- Keep reading that damn research. You’ll never reach the end of it and that’s okay. Continue to educate yourself, even as you write. Talk to people. Call people up and ask to speak to them. I contacted a former chaplain for Planned Parenthood to get a better, less academic sense of the implications of my potential research.
- As you read the research, use whatever note taking system you’re most comfortable with. For me, it is the always elegant and sophisticated sticky-note-on-page system. On the note, I write where in the book this idea or quote or whatever might fit in. I also frequently yell at authors through my sticky notes which serves as a good reminder to question or challenge something in the research. Remember that writing nonfiction is always about you being in conversation with the research.
- Now you are ready for an outline. Outline that shit. Outline it HARD. Don’t be afraid to throw out an old outline and start again, but MAKE SURE YOU OUTLINE.
- Notice how your outline gives you your chapter breakdown. Boom. You’re welcome.
- Take the project on one chapter at a time.
- Look at your notes and note on the note (I feel like Xzibit) where it fits into the book. Perhaps write up all your notes now in this new order, one chapter at a time.
- Again – ONE CHAPTER AT A TIME. You will have plenty of time to go back and create fancy-ass little segues between sections and chapters. For right now, don’t worry about it. Just write each chapter as though it were a stand alone.
- Go back and write in your fancy-ass segues or add other language linking your chapters together.
- Congratulations, friends, you have a first draft. It might look, feel, and smell like shit but you DID IT. You wrote a goddamn book.
- Let it sit for a month. Start a new project. Knit a sweater. Watch every single episode of Forensic Files on Netflix.
- Go back and proofread your first draft.
- Let it sit for a month. Build a treehouse. Take up curling. Learn how to tie a necktie.
- Go back and proofread and edit again.
- Send your first draft to your beta readers. These are people you trust to take that manuscript apart and help you build it up into the fantastic scholarly and literary phoenix it is.
- Edit again using suggestions from your readers.
- Submit that shit. Submit it to a publisher or agent or, if you are an indie author, spend as much as it takes to hire a professional editor to, once again, tear that shit apart. Hire a professional book cover designer while you’re at it. NEVER skimp on either of these if you are an indie. Like, ever.
- Edit again with your editor’s feedback. Send it back to her. Rinse and repeat as long as it takes.
- Holy shit. You have a COMPLETED BOOK.
Friends, this is how you tackle the mammoth that is writing several hundred pages of text that you want others to buy, read, and love. And, as cheesy as it sounds, anyone can do it. Authors are not necessarily talented writers. It’s the editor’s job to make you sound talented. So, whatever your thing is, get out there and write about it. Take it step by step, be faithful to your vision and just get it done. There’s literally nothing to regret at the end of this process.