Friday, February 8, 2019

Where Do I Begin?

The theme of how I start a new writing project comes at the right moment for me because I’m asking myself the same question:  How do I start a new writing project?

First, I’ve got to let go.

My new book has finally been released and I’ve got to move on to another project.  But it isn’t easy to do.  I’ve lived with the enslaved people I wrote about in Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon for the past five and a half years.  I’ve researched, I've thought deeply, and worked hard to write about them in a meaningful way.  But now a new phase has begun for my book as it faces the world on its own.  It reminds me of the feeling I had when I took my kids to college and left them there.  I knew they were ready to go.  I wanted them to go.  It was time for them to go.  It was hard to let them go-but I did.   

Image from Burst.
Since the first of the year, I’ve been doing as much marketing as possible for Buried Lives-but soon I’ll be at the end of my long list of things to do.  Once those tasks are done, I’ll clean my office.  I'll find a place (though I don't know where) for the piles of papers and books that at this moment look like a tornado has touched down. I need to see a clean desk before I can think seriously about what to do next.  

Because I write long nonfiction, each project is a time commitment of years.  I must be willing to invest that kind of energy—mental, physical, and emotional—to the topic.  For me, I must believe the topic is worth what it will cost me, and that this is the book that I’m supposed to write.  

I sometimes think the books choose me, rather than the other way around.

Yes, I know that sounds melodramatic.  But the truth is that it takes so long to write my deeply researched books, that there won’t be that many books by the end of my career.  I will never be one of those authors whose bios say they have written 200 books.   Therefore the topics I choose to write about are crucial to me.  

So many books, representing so much work!  Image from Burst.
So now that I’m letting go of Buried Lives, what is next for me?  I do have a topic that has been in my mind for a couple of years that might become my next book.  But at this point, the possible topic is only a starting place.  From here, I’ll need to do market research to see what else has been written on the topic.  The next step will be to write a book proposal.  Sounds easy, right?  It isn’t. I do a lot of research in order to understand the topic so I can figure out how a book could work.  I need a fully realized concept for the entire book before beginning to write a book proposal.    

After lots of research, and after I know what the book is really about, I craft the most powerful book proposal I can.  I keep in mind that the proposal is a sales tool.  My goal is for the editor to think—I love this idea!  I want this book on our list! 

The next step is signing a contract.  Once I sign my John Hancock on a contract, I put everything I’ve got into writing that book. 

The process is slow and challenging.  The process is also exhilarating and fulfilling.  

What will be the focus of my next book?  Image from Burst.

Carla Killough McClafferty

1 comment:

Carmela Martino said...

Carla, I agree--I think the books DO choose us sometimes. But it's up to us to decide if we want to accept the offer. Good luck deciding on your next topic!