March 9th, 2008

ozarque figure

Writing nonfiction; It's A Whole 'Nother World...

For the past five weeks or so, I've been turning The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense into an electronic file -- keyboarding it from scratch. [That is, for me, the fastest and most efficient way to create the file. I can't revise unless I actually feel the words go through my fingertips.] I'm almost through with the rough draft, which for me is always the hardest part of writing a book; I need it to be a physical object that I can manipulate and hold in my hands, or it's not accessible to me. Only a few chapters are left to do in rough now, then there's the bibliography and the new chapter on GAVSD in e-language, and then I'll be ready to do the next revised draft and however many more revised drafts I can get away with before somebody takes the manuscript away from me.

I was, as it happened, in the hospital when Prentice Hall called me about the proposal for that book and the editor said, "If you can get the manuscript to us in six weeks, we'll take it." So I checked out of the hospital and went home. I did get the m.s. to them in six weeks -- typed on an electric typewriter, which is why there's no e-file -- and they published the book.

This doesn't mean that I wrote the book by cobbling something together in six weeks, by the way. It was a project that I'd been working on for years. I had been discussing it with my students -- always my best and most helpful critics -- and trying out the material in my classes. I'd done a few trial workshops. And of course the book proposal included a detailed synopsis and Table of Contents for me to work from.

The revision has been going well, and the result is going to be all right -- but one thing about the process itself has been a real culture shock to me. A temporal culture shock. I wrote that book in 1979, and the world I lived in then is gone forever. This shouldn't have been news to me; of course I know in my mind that the world has changed in thoroughly science fictional ways over the past thirty years But re-typing all those words that I wrote in that other world and discovering how badly they fit today's world has made me feel the scope of that change in my gut. It has been an eerie experience.

If I were revising fiction, it wouldn't be so wrenching. When I typed the e-files for my four Coyote Jones novels, I did now and then come across a word or phrase that struck me as quaint, and I updated those bits. But fiction is set in its own time, and it stays there; it fits in its fictional time. A nonfiction book about communication is a totally different animal; it has to be brought out of the time it was set in originally and made to fit in Now Time.

Very, very eerie....