November 1, 2012

Lessons from the Trail: Part II

One of the occupational hazards about major biography is the length of time required for research and composition--usually 3 to 5 years I suspect.

My book required 3 years of composition/research, a year further to secure a publisher, and a year after that to oversee publication. What was special was that those 5 years spanned the length of my 20s. I started writing the book when I was 23 years old.

There were multitudes of changes between age 23 and age 28, in my writing method and general approach to life. That shift certainly informed the revision process as it unfolded this year. I sometimes struggled to understand stylistic decisions I must have made at age 23.

The first chapter of Walkin' Lawton especially, "Munn Park," was the product of an early vision for the book's structure. It was a fool's errand, in hindsight. Early drafts incorporated some flashbacks and flash forwards. I had the notion that setting the entire stage of the chapter on a single event in Lakeland's history, with background information all flowing from this one night's political rally.

A year or so into the writing process, however, I decided to stick to standard chronology as strictly as possible for the entire length of the book. During the last few months of revision, I refit "Munn Park" significantly so that it didn't stick out like a sore thumb.

Thematic organization was important to me, but chronology was paramount in structuring the chapters. I like to think that the final manuscript supports that mantra, after five years of personal growth.

Poster for Walkin' Lawton

To ensure property publicity for the book's release, I commissioned a promotional poster and bookmarks.

Winnie Sidharta, a freelance graphic designer and painter based in Ohio, did some phenomenal work for Walkin' Lawton. Her professional website has more information about her art.

Sidharta is highly recommended!

I look forward to releasing the poster soon--once the book is available on Barnes & Noble online.

October 31, 2012

Lessons from the Trail Part I

During the course of composing my Chiles bio, people often asked me how I went about writing it.

Well, the first couple years were the hardest because I was still learning how--and I was teaching myself through trial and error.

One of the key lessons that is at the top of my mind nowadays is, "smaller is easier." By that I mean that revising small portions of the book--a page or less--is so much easier than scanning an entire 500-page manuscript for typos or substantive errors.

Once I finished the book, I tried many different methods of revisions. Most were frustrating because at that point the manuscript was about 900 pages long and the top priority was cutting wholesale. But I think it's fair to say that I also just tried to revise on the chapter level and not on the single page level. And my efforts to polish the script suffered in consequence.

To me, the best way go about revising a large, hundred-page-or-more manuscript is to slice it into manageable portions and revise each portion individually. It allows the author to visualize a small section in isolation, and see whether it can stand along, on its merits and out-of-context. If it looks weak standing alone, it probably is weak and merits revision. If is really sings, even solo, then it will probably be fantastic ensemble.

The most successful revisions I did on Walkin' Lawton occurred toward the end of the process, when I fully realized the benefits of scanning passages at a micro-level. I skimmed chapters, found faults, and then broke those weak links away from the chain for a closer exam. I rewrote paragraphs, paying close attention to clarity. Then I rewrote words, paying attention to memorability.

I cannot help but delight in some of those new, revised passages that entered the manuscript very late in the process. They reflect the full benefits of micro-revision. It's highly recommended as a method to make peace with large manuscripts.