This post was originally published on the blog of B.H. (Bill) James, one of the co-authors of Method to the Madness: A Common Core Guide to Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature:
Potential headlines for this story:
Married couple writes book.
Married couple writes book in only 3 months.
Married couple abandons parenting for 3 months to write book (ultimate winner).
Married couple surprised by how little they come to hate one another while writing book in only 3 months.
Married couple, as side effect of co-writing book in 3 months, becomes those people at Starbucks with all their computers and cords and stuff and about whom you wonder Don’t they have a home?
Parents of infant and toddler who placed ad in search of parents found at local Starbucks, indexing.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, Things that Have Happened Since the Last Time I Posted on My Blog, in which I singled out five things:
Thing #1: I quit blogging.
Thing #2: I had a second kid.
Thing #3: I (we) took first kid and second kid to Disneyland. Twice.
Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife.
Things #5: I was informed I have high cholesterol.
In that last post, I went into more detail about Thing #1 and Thing #2. This is Part 2 of that post and will be about Thing #4, skipping Thing #3 for the time being, just because.
Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife
A full explanation of the book’s intent and the impetus behind it is explained here.
So we (Liz and I) had this idea for a book. We’re both high school English teachers, and it’s a book about teaching high school English.
The idea started out as a book about teaching Slaughterhouse Five, the idea later expanding to a book about teaching Slaughterhouse Five as well as half-a-dozen other books we like to teach.
We batted it around for six months or so, getting serious enough from time to time to draft some chapters and eventually reaching the point at which we began to think about the possibility of submitting it, at which point we learned about book proposals.
So we spent (spent should be precisely defined here as referring to no more than ten to fifteen minutes every few days scratched [into? out of?] an at-home schedule dominated by parenting and grading and Netflix) the next six piecing together a book proposal, which included a query letter and an overview and an annotated table of contents and market research (I say included market research not actually knowing by any degree what market research is and therefore whether or not what we did is it but anyway we analyzed who/what our market is and other books for which the market is the same and how our book was/was not similar and etc.) and a sample chapter.
We sent the proposal out to a handful of education publishers, from which we received rejections, some of which were non-form and encouraging, before finally hearing from a very nice acquisitions editor at Rowman and Littlefield named Sarah (in fact, R&L had been suggested to us by one of our previous non-form and encouraging rejecters).
Sarah asked for some additional materials and some revisions to the sample chapter and then needed to take the proposal to the editorial board. A few days later, she wrote back with an acceptance. We were delighted.
Here’s the said-sarcastically-fun part. Sarah’s acceptance came on July 23rd of 2015. In the same email, Sarah expressed that it would be an advantage for the book—though it would not yet be published—to have an ISBN number and be promotable at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference that November, and for that reason Sarah wanted to know if we could submit to her the final manuscript by early September (this would later be extended to the first of October).
Now, at that point (July 23rd), we had the sample chapter and a couple of other very rough and incomplete chapters, all amounting to less than fifty pages.
We also, at that point, had a nearly-three-year-old and a nearly-three-month-old, as well as full-time jobs: me teaching and Liz at home with the kids, Liz having taken leave from that upcoming school year. I also had a part-time teaching job some evenings and Liz also was working on her Master’s degree.
But I had this memory from grad school of one of the faculty members, a novelist who also wrote screenplays, giving the advice, said advice delivered within an anecdote about a screenplay, that the answer is always, Yes! Like, for example, if “they” ask you if you happen to have any stories/manuscripts/screenplays/whatever about bla bla bla, you always answer Yes, and then go write a story/manuscript/screenplay/whatever about bla bla bla, and it was with this anecdote with its embedded advice that I convinced Liz that despite the apparent impossibility of pulling it off we should just say Yes!
So we did.
For the several months that would later follow the book’s release, when people would ask something along the lines of How’d you do it, I would repeatedly give the same jokey answer: “We just quit parenting for 3 months and did it.”
But we didn’t really quit parenting or abandon our children–Liz in fact clutched our three-month-old and declared that we could not let this affect our time with the kids–though we did for a time parent them less.
We wrote early in the morning. We wrote at night after bedtime. And for a rather large chunk of each of about twelve consecutive Sundays we got a babysitter and went to our local Starbucks.
Things you notice when you spend 10 or more hours per month at your local Starbucks:
- Much like Walmart, people will wear almost anything to Starbucks.
- In any span of several hours at the local Starbucks, a lot of people come and a lot of people go, but the four or five people who remain through all of those hours are pretty much the same four or five people who are also there week after week.
- If you are one of those four or five people, location is everything, and the ideal location depends upon your purpose. For some, it’s those comfy chairs. For us, it was a balance of table space and access to a power outlet.
- Though you may not start out there, if you stay at the local Starbucks long enough and if you’re willing to repeatedly pack up all of your stuff and move, you will eventually get your ideal spot.
- If there are two of you, and you each have a laptop and papers and books, you may very likely need to initially split up, but you will eventually (see above) reunite.
- Starbucks food seems wholesome and even kind of high-end. And you get the impression that they (Starbucks) don’t even really see it as food people would regularly eat, like at McDonald’s, but food people get to go with their coffee or food people need because they’re starving after waiting in line so long for coffee. It seems more like premium food.
But it’s not. In reality, it’s food taken out of a plastic package and put in a microwave, which is what you get when you eat at a gas station (which I happen to know a lot about), except at the gas station you do the microwaving yourself, and when you eat enough re-heated Chicken Artichoke on Ancient Grain Flatbreads, they just start to taste like gas station food.
My first book took three years to write. All the same things happened with this book—frantic drafting with the recurrent thought that nothing that I am typing right now can ever be in a book in fact it’s so awful it can never ever be seen by anyone ever; never-ending laborious revisions such that one reads the same chapters and the same pages and the same paragraphs and sentences over and over and over again; that feeling that when this is over I never want to read or see or even think about this book ever ever again in fact I’m never going to do anything difficult with my free time again just Netflix and ice cream from now on. All the same stuff, just this time crammed into 3 months.
But it all worked out. We finished. On time. And the people we need to thank are: Sarah; our babysitter, Lizzie; our two readers, Susan and Ellen. And of course our kids, for getting along without us for a while.