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February 28, 2012 / bethan

How this book was wroted

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

This advice from the King of Hearts to the White Rabbit is often jocularly given to people who innocently enquire, ‘So, how do you write a book?’ – and seems, on the face of it, eminently sensible. How else would you tell a story?

But as with thunderstorms and children, no two books ever come into the world in quite the same way. If one person has ever managed to write a book by beginning at the beginning and going blithely on until ‘The End’, they can rest assured that I will never emulate their feat.

This book was certainly not written from the beginning to the end. It was written in circles and patches, and fits and spurts and starts and stops.

A good analogy might be that of a patchwork blanket. I designed the pattern, then delegated squares to contributors, who ravelled up their knowledge and returned it to me. These squares were being constructed by many people, in many places, and not even I knew how they would all eventually fit together – the pattern was changing even as the work progressed. I collected the squares, fit them into the pattern (with minor alterations where required), and sewed the disparate squares into a blanket that is much more than the sum of its parts.*

In non-metaphorical terms (phew! that’s the extent of my knitting knowledge), the process went pretty much something like this:

1) I talk to publisher, and decide overall framework for book. Chapters are sketched out, with vague ideas of what might be in each.
2) I write a plan for each chapter, including:
a) proposed word count
b) proposed topics of case studies, and how many
c) what sort of think I might say in the introduction
d) what bits I might need to write
e) what kind of exercise I could include
3) I look at the proposed case studies, and start thinking of people to write them. Most of my first choice contributors say yes, and start writing
4) I complete and send off draft chapter
5) I talk to the publishers again, and re-think the entire framework for the book
6) I write new plans for each chapter, and discover I need some more case studies. I contact new potential contributors.
7) Case studies start coming in. I slot each into its proposed place in the chapter, and start fleshing out the chapters around them.
8) I suddenly realise I’ve done very little research for the bits I’m writing. Cue flurry of inter-library loans.
9) Case studies continue to come in. I continue to work on whichever section of whichever chapter has the most case studies in.
10) I realise I still have some significant gaps, and recruit more contributors.
11) I now have at least some content for each chapter. Time to start revising them!
12) Case studies continue to come in. I now have some chapters complete, some at little beyond planning stage.
13) Repeat 11 and 12 until nearly all case studies are in. Panic about word count, and start chopping words out wherever I can.
14) Feel overwhelmed and devote several days to sorting out all of my references.
15) Proofread.
16) Put all chapters together into one document. Check for house style, references, and any stray words I can cut out.
16) Send to publisher.
17) Final case study arrives. Slot into chapter, hastily write introductory paragraph. Send to publisher.
18) Publisher accepts manuscript. Tears, champagne, etc.
19) (what, you didn’t think acceptance was the end of it, did you?) Hastily start work on adding content to companion website (hi!)
20) Answer copy editor’s queries. Discover typos in names of two contributors. Feel ashamed.
21) Three contributors independently have things that need to be changed in their case studies. Send increasingly grovelling emails to publishers (who are lovely, and make all changes)
22) Await arrival of proofs for checking and indexing…

So the story of this book is a long way from being over! And I guess it did have a beginning, after all, even though it didn’t start with ‘Chapter One’…

* I mean, really, I can’t think of more than 3 or 4 uses for a pile of knitted squares – but a blanket! You can do anything** with a blanket!
** As long as it’s vaguely blanket-based

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