In the wake of the publication of my first book The Sewing Manualand writing my second I have been asked the same question over and over again – how do you write a book?
The first 100 times I was asked this I didn’t really have an answer, I just mumbled my way through with things like..”erm, I just sit at the computer for a few hours every evening after work…and…erm…just…you know type words…and…well…write the book!” Now, for someone that works with words – by day and by night – that is a pretty poor explanation of writing a book isn’t.
So I thought that it was about time that I gave this some thought, whether it is helpful to those that are looking to put pen to paper or maybe just to that I have something all queued up ready for the next time I get asked this inevitable question.
The concept of a book starts with a synopsis. This begins life as nothing more than a shopping list of ideas, key elements that need to be covered and points of interest. Working through and revising the ideas for the content is a laborious process, you don’t want to forget anything but you don’t want to give some ares too much weight. Gradually, after working through each individual element the ideas begin to come together into an order. The structure of the contents starts to take shape, I had to ask myself, “what makes a really good sewing book?” and more importantly, “what do other folks – including my publisher – think makes a really good sewing book?” Asking these questions over and over while I worked back through the synopsis deciding what elements were crucial, what elements were surplus to requirements. Until, finally I had the outlines of a sewing book that I wanted, not only to write, but that I would be rather interested in reading myself! This was the point that I began liaising closely with the publisher, working through their concepts and ideas, deciding what was deliverable and ways to present the elements that, on the surface, appeared impossible. Finally, after much toing and frowing a completed contents synopsis for the book is completed and approved. Now, the fun can really begin.
Words on paper
Essentially a book is a collection of words on paper. A lot of words on paper and this was the first place that I needed to start. I worked with the fabulous http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php from the very beginning of my project. I am not the first person to say that I don’t think I would have been able to complete the project without it. Application aside (although the design of it encourages you to work clear and orderly fashion – or at the very least organise your not so clear and orderly writing in to a clear and orderly system) I began working through the synopsis, breaking it down in to chapters, sections and subsections. Instantly I was no longer staring down the barrel of a 70K + word count, but simply a list, albeit a long one, of individual writing projects.
They say that starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start…well, that might be the case, but I found that writing isn’t always as linear as you might expect. To my mind the entire book had to be written, so for the first draft, who was to say that dipping in and out at different sections, adding thoughts and ideas here and there was a bad idea? It certainly worked for me. Before I knew it, I had the entire first draft written and complete.
Adding flesh to the bones
Of course, if one draft was all it took, then I for one would have written thousand of books by now. The second revision was a much slower, and more exhausting process. Working back through each element of the content, comparing it with the synopsis, ensuring all bases were covered that nothing was missed off.
Aside from the necessary writing and editing skills involved, this book also required a huge amount of technical sewing knowledge. Preparing stacks and stacks of samples, breaking down each individual technique until every element is clear and precise. A lot of people don’t realise, but in order to keep the photography sessions running an quickly and efficiently as possible, I made up a number of examples of each sample, each completed to a stage further than the last. Phew, I’m exhausted just thinking about it!
We had to transform our home into a studio- no mean feat in a Victorian terrace house! It takes a lot of management to ensure that the shoots run as efficiently as possible, that similar shots are worked together to avoid time consuming lighting and set changes. Not to mention, the fear of missing something off!
Each sample had to be photographed and checked against the technical information, ensuring that it was not only technically accurate from a sewing perspective, but also that it was of a sound photographic quality. Each image had to the. Be edited, cropped and given its own unique reference number, ready to be sent to the publishers in a clear format.
Editing & submitting
The final stage, right when you think you don’t have the energy to go in, is the most important stage in the whole process. Getting the entire package together to submit to the publisher.
The text had to be checked for spelling and grammatical errors, then again for technical errors, then a final time just for luck! All the images (over 750) needed to be referenced and checked and double checked.
You get the gist, everything that can be checked needs to be checked! Before its sent off to the publisher ready to be designed.
(Just when you think all the checking is done, you’ll receive a huge bundle of designed page proofs ready to check…but, I’ll save that for another time!)
The toughest challenge by far was keeping motivated! I worked on The Sewing Book around my day job, meaning that for a number of months, evenings and weekends were spent either at the computer typing and reading copy, or at the sewing machine creating samples. More than a few times I had to remind myself that all the hard work would soon pay off! It took tremendous commitment to set the alarm for 6am (after working a full week in the office, and getting a couple of hours of book work in each evening). There were days when I wanted to just pull the covers back over my head and sleep for a week, somehow I didn’t, and to this day I still don’t know how I managed that!
Through out the process I set lots of small goals, targets to work towards to make the whole project seem less daunting. It’s like tricking yourself, but, it works! I know that many writers (both fiction and non-fiction) say the support they receive from family, friends and co-workers during the time they spend working on their book is the key to success. I found that support came in so many different forms – family members happy to spend hours chatting through ideas, to friends that were happy to drop everything to squeeze in some sample sewing for photography sessions, and a husband that never tires of delivering tea to my work desk!
By book, The Sewing Manual The Complete Step-By-Step Guide To Sewing is published by Haynes Publishing and available at Haynes £21.99