Monthly Archives: September 2015

Writing a book? Ha ha! (Step 3: Prepare)

Bk Lillian, prepare

After that first conversation when you get to know each other you’re on to the real thing. You have to pick a subject from your ‘table of contents’ (see previous blog) and start preparing if you want to move beyond the level of ‘chitchat’. I wanted to start with the historical part, which was all about China and Hong Kong. Where should I start?

1. Collect background information

Honestly? It wasn’t me who started preparing. Based on the conversations I had with Maggie and Lillian, I figured it would be great if they would create a timeline and a family tree. Maggie would create the family tree to give an overview of her and her husband’s family within a frame of Chinese and Hong Kongese history. It would give meaning to the choices the families had made within a historical context. Lillian created a timeline to highlight the big events in her life.
Both Maggie and Lillian worked on their ‘assignments’ and it turned out great. Now I had a few key elements that I could use for my own preparation.
– This is especially a great tool if you’re writing an autobiography, although you could argue that a fictional book character needs some background to be as real as possible too, so it might work anyway. –

2. Brainstorm questions and ideas

I knew I had to focus. When I just started blogging, I easily wrote about 48 different subjects in one blog. When I started writing for a magazine the editor politely asked me if I could stick to one single subject per column? Right. How to do that?
A writer-friend handed me a brainstorm technique: Think of a dish, such as salmon, and think of 20 different ways to serve salmon. It’s all about being creative with that one single subject. If you can do that, you can apply it to your blog, column and interview questions.
Okay! I, for example, wanted to get more information about how Maggie lived and under what circumstances. I asked myself what the reader would like to know and what I would do if I were her? I would think of a possible answer Maggie would give me and thought of a fictive next question. I grouped those questions and thought of 10 more questions per subject. It resulted in endless white sheets with post-its with a lot of questions that I later categorized and translated to the actual questions.

To sum it up:

Brainstorm ‘Salmon’
Subject -> write down as many questions as possible -> categorize the questions – > think of 10 more questions -> ask ONLY the relevant ones during the actual interview.

It works for me and it makes it easier to relax during the interview and chat as if I didn’t prepare. I use it when writing columns and articles as well.

3. Fail to prepare? Prepare to fail.

If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. That’s a fact. You might have a nice, short conversation if you don’t prepare. If anything, the information gathered is probably not very useful. Yes, of course you can fill in blanks later and ask questions to clarify things you’ve written down. BUT you don’t want to waste your time or worse, waste the time of the people you’re interviewing. Besides that, you want to be relaxed and being prepared takes away half of your stress upfront.

The interview went well, I’ve had a few more and started wondering what my next step would be? I thought this would be the right time to have another chat with Sarah who guides me in my writing process. Was I doing the right things?

Writing a book? Ha ha! (Step 2: Pace yourself)

Book Lillian Pace 017Lillian, the girl the book is about, and I Skyped – okay we used ‘Facebook call’ because Skype is really old-fashioned – for the first time a few weeks ago. (Read the previous blog if you have no clue what I’m talking about.)
It went well and then I had to think of what comes next. I noticed that writing a book is a slow process and very different from writing a column or article. It’s hard when you have an impatient nature and would like to finish things yesterday.

Finish yesterday?

A few years ago I had a coach at work. I told him about myself and I shared, amongst other things, that I like to do things as fast as possible. He nodded and asked me to stand up. He then asked me to run to the other side of the room while he was holding me. The resistance was high and it was not easy at all (and a bit awkward) to run with someone attached to you. He asked me what would happen if I would do it again, but slower? Well, I would arrive later, of course! I replied. We tried it and I arrived at the other side of the room faster than at full speed. I guess it’s a balancing act of making progress and giving room for things to ripen. It popped into my head while I was planning and talking and researching and quickly! starting. I paced myself and wrote down what I was doing and why.

1. Collecting information takes time

If you’re writing a book, you need to do research, read other books (in my case autobiographies), do interviews etc. I’m writing about a young Chinese lady and I need a lot of input from her, but also from her parents and possibly other people. It gives me a feel for who Lillian is. I also need to know things about her past. She of course won’t remember because she was too young. Gathering all this information doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.
Okay, it’s even worse. Some of the ‘very interesting information’ you will write down now will be deleted at a later stage. You have to tell yourself not to worry about that now though.

2. Don’t Rush

If you start rushing, you will never manage to write a story that’s whole. Every story needs a beginning, a middle part, an end and a plot of some kind. A princess doesn’t immediately meet her prince, if anything it would be a rather boring story. Rushing makes you forget things; you forget to listen properly and you might make assumptions. If you start doing that, it’s all about you and you’re not writing a book about yourself. Period. Don’t rush.

3. Have a little faith

The longer it takes, the more time you have to start doubting yourself. Are the things you’re doing the right things? There already are so many good books, mine won’t be of any added value! What if it doesn’t work, what if the pieces of the puzzle won’t fall into place? Yes, this could happen, or not. Writing a book is a brilliant way to test yourself. You have to start with the first conversation and the first chapter and have a little faith that slowly but surely the story will unfold.

Have a little faith and prepare. Prepare? Prepare what?!

I will share how I do that next time!