Writing a book – What’s it really like?

Almost one year ago I self-published my first novel, Misspelt Yoof, a coming of age story about a teenager who finds himself struggling to navigate bad influences and situations in the wake of his older brother’s untimely death.

My first book started off as blog entries spanning back almost ten years. When I saw what I had written over time, I realised that I could have a full blown novel on my hands. For almost two years, I wrote the second half of the story, working hard to fill in the blanks, build connections and just learn how to write a book. It took another six to nine months to understand how Indesign worked to lay out the book and understand how to print a book myself.

Today, I am working on my second book. This time it is non-fiction. A reference book of sorts written from a personal perspective. I recently read Shea Serrano‘s Rap Year Book which is a brilliant listing of the most important rap songs over a 35 year period (1979-2014) and this inspired me to do something similar for skateboarding.

The subject matter is the evolution of skateboarding videos over a 25 year period (1984-2008) pinpointing the most important releases with the most influence. There are also some rare videos listed and some absolute horrors. Much like Shea says in his Rap Year Book, there’s no pleasing everyone. The entries listed are from personal opinion and should be respected as such even if most of the choices made are entirely valid and justified.

I chose the topic os skateboard videos because I love skateboarding and have watched skate videos on a daily basis for over 30 years. Skateboard books are nearly always photo books. To my knowledge, no-one has focused on skateboarding videos which are an integral part of the culture. I decided to be the person to write a book and fill the hole in everyone’s bookshelf. Fingers crossed nobody else is going to beat me to it!

So, I have the idea and now I need to execute it. There’s no real secret to writing a book. You just have to sit down and write. I know enough about my subject to write several thousand words. The real test is writing with consistency and a style that people other than myself are going to enjoy.

When I first stated writing this new book, I found myself trying to maintain an informal tone throughout. I soon realised that when you are writing non-fiction the importance of facts is paramount. Despite wanting to sound hip and cool, I kept finding myself slipping into a dry academic voice because whatever I wrote about had to be the truth. This is where the second phase of writing took over and my learning curve steepened.

Seeing as I set out to write a reference book, my book would be full of references. There are numerous ways to find information to back up the facts, an obvious one being speaking to those involved. I chose not to. The reason being that if I have to contact a few dozen people, there is a good chance some of them won’t answer or some might even feel they have to influence the way I write my book. A book is a personal endeavour and an author must hold the wheel at all times.

I can hear critics already grinding their teeth at that last revelation. On the rare occasion that a fact or statement I have made cannot be verified by external source, I will contact the persons or persons concerned. Luckily I have only had to do that once or twice. Almost all of the information is out there. It just takes time to find it.

I have had to go through the painstaking task of double checking every fact I place in my book and finding a reliable source for each tidbit of information. I can’t tell you how many times I have written something about a video that I was sure to be true, only to find out that the truth was actually something different.

So what happens when a fact can’t be verified? There are two choices an author can make: scratch that bit of information or use the words “allegedly”, “rumour has it”, “I heard it through the grapevine…” On the rare occasion that a fact can’t be verified, I use my speculative lexicon to include these myths which in turn brings the informal tone safely back into the body of the book.

I know that no-one really reads blog posts anymore, so I’m going to sign off on this one. It’s long enough. However, I do want to share more of my experience as an amateur writer and some of the important things I have learnt along the way. The plan is to write more posts that highlight specific moments or hurdles that I had to overcome in order to complete this second book. I’ll probably throw in some experience from the first book too.

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