Monday, June 03, 2013

Book writing wisdom from Jason Fagone

There was a series of tweets on the subject of writing which caught my eye a week or so back that I wanted to preserve in posterity (well, keep track of here).

Jason Fagone is a writer I came across around the time I started this blog and I then posted on and linked to his really solid 2008 Esquire story "The Video-Game Programmer Saving Our 21st-Century Souls". In Nov of this year, Fagone comes out with the book Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America and for the past few months he's been tweeting both from his personal feed and from his IngeniousBook twitter feed.

Below was taken from posts made on May 26th to the IngeniousBook feed and contained I thought some very cool stuff on two writing-related topics...

Thoughts on writing a book

In response to someone asking if writing a book takes a lot of time - "Yes, it takes a shit-ton of time. For me, anyway. For some it takes less time, for some more. My first book took a year, start to finish. This one has taken 3. It's more complex, ambitious. It's just temperaments. Mine happens to be suited to ruminating on stuff." 

In response to someone asking how to manage the time required to write a book - "You try to set up a series of targets, then give yourself a break after hitting each one. First time you finish a draft. First time you show the draft to a friend and the friend kicks the shit out of it. First time you revise the draft so it's better. Share it again. Step back, breathe. It's still there, is always there. You make time to step away so that when you come back each time, it's slightly alien to you, and you see it new." 

Thoughts on writing a book proposal writing 

"A proposal is kind of a weird document. It has a standard format, like a screenplay. Editors read a ton of them, all the time. 3 main sections: An overview, a sample chapter, & chapter summaries. You have to lay out the whole book. The paradox is that you have to describe the book before you've fully reported the book. This is the hard thing. 

I think editors want to know 2 things: 1) Can this person lay out a plausible book that will sell? and 2) Can he/she write it? They want to know if you can think through a book. And the funny thing is, if you dedicate yourself to the proposal, by the time it's done, you really are ready to write the book. 

The overview might begin with your best character or scene. The "sample chapter" can be a mixtape of the best of what remains. I get the sense that people get stuck on the formality of proposals. But just start writing your best scene. Go from there. The book's structure can change from what's laid out in the proposal. Again, the Q is: Can this person think in book structure? Often the book veers away from the proposal. Still, it's helpful. I have a friend who ran into trouble while writing a book. He meandered. He went back and read his proposal, and he's like, "What genius wrote this?" The whole structure was right there. 

The harder thing, of course, is finding a great story. I have no advice there. The proposal you can do. It just takes time."