Larry Jordan

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Publishing Part III: "How Do You Write a Book?"

Sep 03, 2022 by Larry Jordan, in The Way
When people ask me "How do you write a book?" I can only speak from my own experience, realizing that my way is certainly not the only way and probably not the best way to write a book (and that I have only written one book!)

I wrote most of the book on retreat, where I could largely focus on writing, without the distractions of everyday life. For two months of every year, we rent a house in Crestone, Colorado, a small town in the Sange de Cristo Mountains, which is home to many spiritual centers. The cool mountain air and the spiritual energy provide inspiration. Often, I drink a craft brew beer, smoke a good cigar, and listen to glam rock music when I write, which provides lubrication, too.

I did not sit down to actually write anything until I had a general outline of the whole book in my head. In order to complete the few chapters on consciousness, I had to spend an extra year just figuring that subject out, before I could develop an outline for the book. Once I had the outline for the book, I developed an outline for each chapter, then I wrote each chapter, starting with the first and ending with the last. As a result, I think that the book has a conversational tone.

I was warned that a good book requires six or eight drafts, which was about right for me. Until the fifth or sixth draft, no one saw it, not even family and friends, which means for the five years that it took me to get that far, it was a lonely and solitary experience, with no assurance that anyone would like the book at all. Even after my near-final draft, I edited the book every day, adding ideas that I had left out, enhancing the writing, and strengthening the findings with quotes.

I hired an editor, who greatly improved the book. The book has a unique structure with a deconstruction and a reconstruction. The book is bookended by 9/11 and 11/9, and it features several autobiographical chapters. My editor was skeptical of the structure, but we concluded that it works very well.

To give you some idea of how inexperienced I was, I was startled when the editor suggested that I add chapter numbers. Do most books have chapter numbers? "Yes," she said. "In fact, all books have chapter numbers." Oh, OK. 

Also, I hired a designer, who transformed the book. The right designer does much more than adding page numbers and designing a cover. The book looked so professional to me that I did some additional editing during the design phase (which is frowned upon) so that the writing would be just as solid as the design.

To give you some idea of how inexperienced I was and how experienced the designer was, I kept suggesting clunky designs, and he kept discouraging them. How would it look if we did this? The designer sighed. "It would look like it was designed by an investment banker."  Oh, OK.

(Later, if I find a publisher, then I may need to rewrite the book or to edit it or design it to meet the publisher's specifications.)

I never realized the importance of tone, which frames every word, but often goes unnoticed by the reader. Parts of the book described angry periods of my life, and (at first) those parts of the book sounded angry in the retelling. This book is not an angry book, so we removed the residual anger.

Sometimes, when I attempted to be clever or funny, it came out sounding dismissive or snarky. In an early draft, I flippantly described reincarnation as "coming back as a Buddha or a bedbug," which angered several readers. A writer should be able to make his or her point without offending anyone.

At the end of the day, any book about spirituality should be respectful, and many discussions about God and the Universe and self and soul and free will should end with a humble admission by both parties. "But, you might be right."