Jean Comes Up for Air

Earlier this month I decided to start writing a new book about Bernard Shaw. It is at last underway (I’ve drafted the first chapter). So here’s the second installment in the exciting adventure of What’s It’s Like to Write a Book – for real.

I’m joking about “exciting adventure,” of course. It’s a lot of hard work – but maybe I’m not entirely joking. It is immensely satisfying – joyful even – to watch the ideas take shape and start flying around my head.

My writing process violates the rules you find in how-to-write books. You’re supposed to push on without stopping to fix a sentence. Nope. I sweat over every sentence – at least in a heavy project like this one. Making the ideas flow is hard work. (“Absolute murder” is the phrase that just came into my head.)

Sometimes the transition from one paragraph to the next depends on a particular word. If I’ve already used that word in a paragraph – something that happens a lot – I have to go back and change everything.

Sometimes the word I want already showed up in one of the quotations from Shaw. Drat you, Shaw – stealing my best stuff.

Those paragraph transitions are the hardest part of writing. Years ago, when I was writing my doctoral dissertation about Shaw, my advisor kept pointing out my “weak paragraph transitions” (words that still ring in my head). I am still battling them.

Another problem (does anyone else struggle like this?) is that after a while the ideas get stalled. I’ve learned that (for me, anyway) 100% of the time the problem is that I didn’t have a strong enough point to begin with. That means I have to go back to the beginning and look for something better. @#$(%! As I said, that’s true 100% of the time.

(What’s also true is that I always say “This time it’s going to be different!” and stubbornly stick with it – until I’m forced to admit that I’ve hit a dead end. Some people never learn.)

Two more thoughts:

  • My best ideas come when I’m walking or driving. When I get stuck, I go for a walk. I don’t like to work on a book when I’m driving – I’d rather just relax and let my brain babble. But because I spend so much time driving to dance lessons, I’m trying to use that time productively.
  • I reread everything I write about a zillion times. Every time I sat down to work on Chapter 1, I went back to the beginning and read what I had already written. Invariably I found several things to improve.

On to Chapter 2! I came up with a tidy plan (ok – I thought it was brilliant) that fell apart when I got to second page…which means I don’t have a strong enough idea for that chapter. Rats. But fun. Exciting. Sort of like exploring a new country!

Bernard Shaw



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