| David Gane

How to write a book (part deux)

I could say the image chosen above has sort of meaning...but nah, I just didn't have one that really worked.

It's from Red Rock Canyon in Waterton National Park in Alberta. We went there camping over the summer. It rained a lot.


The other day I rather flippantly said that all you need to do to write a book is put down 500 words day for 160-200 days—which is true—but it's a little more complicated than that.

writing is the first step

The big challenge is what comes after putting the words on the page. The process Ang and I looks something like this:

  1. We write out an outline.

  2. We write out the first draft.

  3. We make corrections on each other's writing.

  4. Once we finish the first pass, we read it from beginning to end and fix the chunks that are incoherent, illogical, or just plain bad.

  5. After doing this, we'll do another read because every time you rewrite something, it tends to make more errors.

  6. Then we send it to our editor, Nathan, who catches a bunch of our grammatical errors. He gives us a very long list of notes that we then have to go through and approve.

  7. After we're done that, we eventually read it again, because we're masochists and really love feeling the pain of our eyeballs melting. We make more changes, more notes, and have more conversations between the two of us.

  8. Now we get into the real work and send it to our publisher, Heather, who then really digs through every aspect of the book. She reads it on a grammatical, structural, sentence, and story level. She catches things that no one else notices—and for this I'm grateful.

  9. But this leads us to read the words again, to make choices, notes, decisions. And our editing sessions go back and forth, the three of us trying to make sense of the words and put them in the best possible order so that you, the reader, can actually enjoy the book.

Writing is about choices

The real truth is that every time you revisit the writing in a book it is an opportunity for choice.

We choose the narrative as we build the outline. We make more choices about the book in the first draft. But then we have to question and defend every one of those choices over and over. Hopefully, somewhere during all of this, the story is made solid and entertaining.

But the good thing is that this process pushes your story forward. The first draft takes you to maybe 70% of what your final story will be and each additional rewrite takes you a little closer towards 100%.

But that last 30% is the hard part. You do it again and again, even when you are tired of your own words and the story but you keep at it because it means you can make it the best possible version.

you, the professional

This reminds me of what I tell my students all the time.

At the start of being a writer, you have a steep learning curve but if you apply yourself, it can happen quickly.

Once you get through that first part though, the rate of acquiring skills levels off. You're competent—but so is everyone else who has taken the time to learn.

That last 5-10% of skill is what sets you apart from the rest. It is what raises you out of the mediocre and moves you into someone who people want to buy and read.

This last bit of growth takes time and patience and practice. To move up the line requires constant learning of yourself and of your craft.

Some people work through it naturally. Some can only get so far. But the only way to move forward is through effort—the process of constant work over time.

However, the very best part of moving above that line, is that for you, the person who does the work, this is entirely attainable!

back to the book

The rewriting of a book is the same way. It can get better. It must get better if you want to stand out.

But it also can be found on the first pass. There is always the danger of look at someone else's writing and saying, "I'll never be this good."

The thing is, most of the time, it never was this good at the start. It was found with lots of time and hard work in order to get it right.

Tags: Writing

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