I’ve been working on a book editing project for the past few weeks, and as you’d expect, it’s making me think about writing my own book.
I’m seeing a new aspect of the book publishing process as I’m basically taking a manuscript and editing it for flow and understanding. I’m supposed to not worry about style and copy editing things like improper hyphens and passive voice, but I can’t help myself. Of course the fun part about this project is what I’ve talked about before — there’s so much I want to say but I need to be careful.
Part of what’s making me think is I’m realizing exactly what publishers deal with. The manuscript I’m reading is good. The guy’s got great stories, a good message, and he packages it all fairly well. But it’s far from perfect. I’ve done quite a bit of reworking, re-writing, and editing. Part of this is because the guy’s not a writer. He certainly writes better than a lot of folks, but he’s no writing major (gosh, that sounds arrogant — sorry).
There’s all sorts of little things I keep tweaking. Then I wonder if I’m being anal, and I think I should stop and let someone else do it. Then I think about no one else doing it and the book being published as is. That makes me cringe, so I go for anal.
That’s another freaky thing, the book being published with errors. So many books are published every year, and I wonder how many of them probably shouldn’t have been published. Like anything else, publishing is a business, and not everyone is out to make the best of all books. Some people just want some cash. And that means a lot of crappy books.
I keep comparing what I’m working on to something by Anne Lamott or Annie Dillard, where you can tell every sentence and phrase has been hand-crafted, fine-tuned, and perfectly tweaked. Not every book needs to be written by a Pulitzer-bestowed author, but I wonder how many books out there could use a good re-write. I keep stopping at a paragraph and thinking how I’d react to a particular sentence if I were reviewing the book. Sometimes it makes me paranoid, thinking the book needs a complete overhaul. Then I get a grip and realize it’s pretty good. There’s just such a permanance to the printed word, more so in a book than a magazine article, and I wonder if I’ve worked hard enough.
I also wonder about how this book came to be. As I rearrange chapters and talk to the author, I’m quickly realizing this book came together over several years and has probably existed in several different forms. It might have been a seminar, an article, a sermon, a curriculum. Now it’s being told and packaged with other pieces, a little glue to hold it all together, and there you go.
I don’t mean to belittle the author I’m working with, but all of this makes me wonder why I’m not writing books. Some of the quotes and stats used in the book are the same quotes and stats I’ve gathered. And I’ve written articles. How close am I to pulling together a few related pieces and being half way to a book? Then again, I’m the writer, not the expert.
Maybe it’s yet another billboard screaming to me that all my fears and apprehensions mean nothing. Write a freaking book, Kevin.