The winding road of writing a book

I’m working on a book which I hope to self-publish by the end of the year. It’s a collection of short essays about musical instruments and what they “mean.” One essay for each instrument in the orchestra (plus a few other common ones, like piano and guitar).

I’ll go over the book itself in a future post, but in this one I wanted to discuss my writing process. It has definitely not been linear, but then again, the book isn’t meant to be linear!

Rough Draft

Although it was probably insane, my wife used to drive over an hour one-way to teach yoga classes, a couple times a week. On most Sundays I accompanied her. I got a free class in, and she got a little company on the drive.

I took her second class of the morning, so during the first I would walk over to Whole Foods for a little breakfast and to work on my laptop. I had roughly 90 minutes, which was just enough to knock out a small project.

Usually this was a job application, but I also found it useful for drafting a chapter of my book.

I call these “word vomit” drafts–a term some people don’t like, but works for me. If somehow you haven’t heard this term, “word vomit” means free-flowing extemporaneous writing. In my case, I had some ideas, and had some references jotted down. But I didn’t outline. I just started writing.

I like to write in a plain text editor like TextEdit or Notepad. I got in this habit during my dissertation because I wouldn’t get distracted by formatting.

For most of these essays, which are in the 800-1000 word range, I gave myself about an hour to complete a word-vomit draft. Let it flow with minimal editing and second guessing.

First Draft

Due to my crazy work schedule, plus some life changes like moving across the country, it’s taken me several years to get to a solid “First Draft” of the entire book.

I had a different text file for each chapter (plus a really long text file with notes and references for everything). I copied these into a word doc, did some basic spell check and light proofreading, then printed the whole thing.

I like editing in longhand. Editing a project this large on the computer would be tedious for me, plus I find it refreshing to get away from the screen. I revised my dissertation the same way. Although it “wasted” some paper, it made sense to mark things up, draw arrows where things needed to be substituted, then go back to the computer and make the edits without extra thinking.

Of course, I ended up with full paragraphs scribbled in the margins that had to be typed, but that’s okay!


Once I typed up my official First Draft, I sent it to a few friends for some comments. They are what some folks call “beta readers.” Beta Readers are folks who can give you some friendly, general comments about your writing. Does it work? Do you need to explain something more? They can “read through” typos and grammatical mistakes for the overall picture.

I made some adjustments based on the Beta Readers’ comments, and sent it to my editor. I picked my editor because I know her personally, because she is very experienced, and because she is the right audience for my project. I’m aiming for an educated, general audience–people who are interested in music, but are not themselves musicians.

I’ll update soon with more on the editing process, as well as a little more about my intentions with the book.

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