Writing a book, for me at least, is like putting together a puzzle: there are lots of pieces, you may have a sense of what the final thing looks like, but you don’t know yet how they all fit together.
That was certainly the case when I wrote my first book, The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on The Camino de Santiago. I had lots of stories, lessons, and anecdotes, but no clear idea of how each fit into the narrative that was going to become a book.
When I do a puzzle I always begin with sorting pieces. I match colors, recognizable images and look for edges; they constitute the frame, the outer boundary. They also produce a skeleton, a framework—albeit, from the outside—for the whole.
Assembling a story, whether it be a work of fiction (a novel, say) or a memoir is the same way. It’s necessary to create some kind of order or framework around which to write. I understand that many writers are free-spirited and creative (so am I), but that does not mean that we don’t have some order in our creativity. Even a painter stretches a canvas for a painting, and that determines its size.
My last book started with that large collection of stories, thoughts, reflections and experiences that I had while I walked across Spain for six weeks. I added to that my own research and reading on culture and history. I’m doing the same thing for my next book.
A Ride of Passage (no subtitle yet) is about a 335-mile bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. that follows an abandoned railroad and canal trail along several major rivers. Its framework is the ride itself: what I saw, who I met, what I experienced. As I pedaled, I kept a journal via blog posts; one for each of seven days’ experiences. That’s the rough outline.
That outline has been built into a table of contents. Each of the seven days has been roughly figured as two chapters, with each chapter to be about 2-3,000 words. Each chapter has my reflections on this unique journey, one that is powered solely by my legs. My reading and past knowledge of the area is adding more history, geography and culture to the mix. I hope that by the time I am done to have a book that will give a reader some inspiration to ride all or part of this trail.
I’m looking to complete the first draft by the end of the year. After that I will let the manuscript sit and ferment for about three weeks, during which time I will create maps and choose photos. When the fermentation is over, I’ll revise it, then send it out to “Beta Readers,” who will give me feedback for a final draft. Beta Readers are people who are interested in reading an early version of my book and in exchange for reading and feedback, will get a free copy of my book when it comes out.
After hearing from Beta Readers, I’ll try and incorporate their input and then hire an editor who will work-over the whole manuscript. It’s an intense process and no guarantee that there won’t be major changes. My experience is that a good editor will ask a whole lot of questions, some of which will create major revisions to the manuscript, as well as making any good writing better.
If everything is aligned, I’ll have a final draft by early March, but before then I should have a book cover (and final title) which I can use in making announcements. I’m aiming for a May 1 release date. After that, depending on the pandemic situation, I will start to do some live promotional events, which might include cycling back to Pittsburgh from D.C., this time with a group.