How to write a book

I meant to post this ages ago, I wrote it but forgot to press publish. Anyway, here are my thoughts on how (not) to write a book based on my recent experience. A few people asked, so here you are:

1. Don’t wait for the contract: I spent ages sending my book to various publishers. I got some rejection letters but Routledge said yes after review. During this waiting period I felt paralysed, thinking, what’s the point of writing the book (apart from the intro and the sample chapter) if it won’t get published? I never felt motivated without the contract but I should have had more faith. It will get published eventually, so don’t procrastinate.

2. Publishers don’t always do exactly as they say on a website: There was a publisher I liked, but on their website they wanted the intro and three chapters. After I had signed a contract with Routledge, the academic editor of this publisher approached me and said, ‘I hear you have a book and I think I might like it’ and I replied, ‘But I’ve signed and even now I haven’t written as much as you say you want on your website.’ He told me he’d have looked at the intro and one chapter – that would have been enough. So contact every editor.

3. Which series? Where to put it? I went for geography initially, but I felt increasingly like what geographers wanted from a ‘geographies of performance’ book wasn’t what I wanted to write. Like many other geographers, my book therefore isn’t published in geography but I don’t view this as a problem because publishers can cross-market. Someone recently said to me, ‘it is easier for books to travel into geography, rather than out from geography, especially when written by a geographer.’ Time will tell.

4. Know what you want to say and who you want to speak to. What I have written is an interdisciplinary book from a geographical background. I have agonised about audience because different disciplines use different methods, have different modes of analysis and expect different things. I have tried to create a coherent approach that allows geography and theatre studies to speak to one another. However, I have a feeling that it will generate a ‘marmite’ reaction. I hope that this means I am doing something different.

5. Write the book during the grant. Or at least draft some of it. I did very little of either.

6. Do not try to write a book in the first year and a bit of a new lectureship like I did. It hurts when you have new lectures to prepare, tutorials, a new system to learn, a new university, a new city, new colleagues, a new life….. and my university gave me a light load for my first year. The transition from postdoc to lecturer plus book was tough.

7. If you get one day a week of writing done during teaching then that’s great. If I told myself I should be doing 2 or 3 days, I felt like a failure. 1 day seemed realistic, plus weekend.

8. Ruthlessly carve out one day a week. Mentally thinking of everything as revolving around the book made a difference.

9. Find how you write during term time. There are different opinions on this: I met professors who told me that they had to write every day, they set aside two hours in the morning or the evening every day to write. I tried this, I got tired, grumpy, and when I had a first draft of the book, the chapter I wrote from 7-9 or 8-10 every morning, was, quite frankly, shit, and I had to completely scrap it and start again. I found the ‘day a week’ model worked better for me, largely because my work pattern is to sit and process ideas from maybe 9-4, then write about 2,000 words from 4-6. Sometimes I tried to run a spare Friday into a spare Monday and get 4 days in a row. That’s when I could churn.

10. Switch off the internet. Switch off email. Switch off the router. Just SWITCH IT OFF!

11. Do not take on the Admissions role, even the Deputy Admissions role, whilst writing a book. You will lose every Wednesday and some Saturdays, especially between Christmas and Easter. I only managed it because we have an admissions team, I had a March 1st deadline and was basically killing myself anyway in the final throws.

12. Make sure you have understanding family and friends. Warn them that you will disappear.

13. Prepare to be working every day during every holiday. But do have a holiday at some point.

14. Print each chapter as you go along. It makes you feel like the book is actually happening when you see chapters stacking up.

15. The first draft isn’t the final thing. You want it to be but it isn’t. The first edit isn’t the final thing. You want it to be but it isn’t. The third part, the micro-edit is where it happens.

16. The last month will kill you, because you’ll be pulling 14 plus hour days to finish the [insert your favourite exhausted expletive here], especially if you have a full teaching/admin load.

17.  Have something new in the pipeline to look forward to because you will feel deflated afterwards. I went on holiday, but before finishing I applied for a month-long fellowship to pursue new research abroad. Which is what I am doing now. It’s helped me think about what I am doing next, what papers I need to write from my older and new projects. But it’s been refreshing to do something a bit different.

18. The index will kill you. I haven’t done it yet, but I know it is going to drive me insane and take 3 days.

19. One professor told me, ‘Your book is fantastic by sheer virtue of the fact that it exists.’

20. Finally, I’m preparing for shameless self-promotion in order that someone actually reads this thing in the era of articles. But I’m proud because, after all, it’s based on a decade of research and taken 18 months to write. So here’s my plug: My book, Performing Asian Transnationalisms: theatre, identity and the geographies of performance will be out in August as part of the Routledge Advances in Theatre Studies series. The link is here (but I wish they’d update it as this IS NOT the final book description):