Starting a new book writing project: embracing the unknown


I've recently started working on a new company history project.

I've conducted interviews with about 20 people and had those interviews transcribed. I've also been provided with a number of newspaper articles and other items from the archives. All up I have about 200,000 words of raw material that needs to be condensed down to about one tenth of that for the final book.

At the moment I don't have a clear idea of what the finished product is going to look like structurally. I have some major headings in mind, but what order they will be presented in is unknown. And those topics may change too. There might be a few 'ins' and 'outs' along the way.

But that's okay. What I've learnt over the years is that uncertainty at this stage of a book project, or any large creative project for that matter, is quite normal. Embracing the unknown at this point frees me up to keep going; worrying about it won't achieve anything and is likely to cause stagnation.

In these early stages I'm working in Scrivener, my go-to app for the task of sorting out raw materials – a job that is a bit like unscrambling eggs. I'm working through the transcriptions to isolate and categorise segments of the interviews under rough headings. Later I'll keep working in Scrivener as I create my outline and then work on the first draft.

Along the way I'll using another application – Aeon Timeline – to create a timeline of events. At some stage I might use a mindmap or cover a wall in sticky notes as I experiment with different ways of presenting the history.

Gradually, over the next couple of months, the project will start to shape itself into something with a more recognisable form. From there it will take on more and more definition until, after a couple of drafts, a polish, a good edit and then the final production process, the finished book will be born.

How can I be so sure that it will work out in the end? Because it always does. What I'm dealing with here are, in the infamous words of Donald Rumsfeld, 'known unknowns'. What I know is that there is no 'one right answer' to what this book should be. There are many right answers, and as I keep plugging away one of those right answers will reveal itself to me.

May your words pour onto the page,


This post was originally published on David Brewster's website over at Clarity in Words