Guest Blog: The Evolution of “Going Ape” By Brandon Haught

Brandon HaughtWhen family, friends and colleagues find out that I’ve published my first book, the aspiring writers among them are eager to learn about the process of writing and publishing. How did the book develop from an idea to a finished product? What’s the writing and researching process like? Was it hard? That last question is the simplest to answer. Yes. After five years of researching, writing, revising, and then researching, writing, and revising even more, I can say that it was a mountain climb. But the view at the summit was worth it.

The project didn’t even start out as a book. Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom arose from a moment of pure curiosity. I had been personally and deeply involved in a public conflict in 2008 over how evolution would be taught in Florida’s science classrooms. The controversy had attracted national media attention, sweeping up the state board of education and the state legislature in the whirlwind. Once the battle finally ended, I reflected on what had happened over the previous year and wondered: Had there ever been a headline-making controversy over the teaching of evolution in Florida before? That question launched an informal research project that turned up fascinating glimpses into this largely forgotten aspect of Florida history.

I wrote a series of blog posts to share my discoveries, digging deeper with every successful expedition. My blog series kept growing until I finally realized I had enough material to fill an entire book. I abandoned the blog and set out on a new adventure. I had done a lot of writing before, but never on the scale of a nonfiction book. Enthusiasm initially made up for my inexperience and naiveté, but it soon faded in light of the workload I had taken on.

The blog series had been fun, but writing a serious history book was real work. I understood my research had to be impeccable, and the relaxed tone of my blog posts needed to mature into something more academic without losing readability and personality. And I needed to do much more detailed and difficult research than I had done before to bridge the information gaps.

Whereas the blog posts were churned out in only a couple of months, the book chapters were slow, exhausting slogs. It took several years to stitch the historical information together into a flowing narrative. Keep in mind I’m not a full-time writer. I have a regular day job unrelated to writing, and I have a family. At times it seemed like the project would never end. But my genuine interest in the subject sustained me through the tough times. There finally came a day when I joyfully completed the last chapter, but the celebration was short lived as I worked to document my source material. My inexperience and disorganization almost killed the project as I worked to organize stacks of materials, including newspaper articles, school board meeting minutes, interview notes, audio recordings, video clips, books, etc. into a detailed notes section for the book. I realized I was missing some vital source information from the initial research for my blog posts, forcing me to retrace my steps from a few years prior. It was discouraging and exhausting to have to do all that work over again.
This part-time hobby project was no longer fun. Now it was non-paying work that was eating up my free time. What kept me going despite the dark cloud hanging over me was pure determination to see this project through to the end, and the support and encouragement from loved ones.

Fortunately, the next step was surprisingly easy. I sent a query letter to the University Press of Florida and quickly heard back from them that they were interested in my book. I know many authors have faced letdown after letdown at this stage. My advantage was that I had written a unique book completely focused on Florida, making it an easy sell to UPF. However, the publisher’s editing process was a slow one, demanding lots of patience. From the time my initial manuscript was accepted until I had a copy of the printed book in my hands was a full year. During that time there were several rounds of editing. Then came the tedious indexing, which I did myself because I couldn’t afford to hire a professional. Finally, there was the last proofreading. By then, I had read my work so many times already that I actually was tired of looking at it.

Now that all of that hard work and waiting is over, I’m back to truly enjoying the subject like I did when I was writing the blog series. It’s fun to share this fascinating aspect of Florida history with readers and show them how this history flows seamlessly into the present day. We’re seeing in 2014 a repeat of events from decades past. Only the cast of characters has changed.

I now have an itch to take on a new book project, but this time I’ll carefully document source materials as I go. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Brandon Haught is a former Marine Corps combat correspondent, a former newspaper columnist and a current public information officer with a central Florida sheriff’s office. He is a founding board member and volunteer communications director for the statewide science education advocacy organization Florida Citizens for Science. Haught was deeply involved in the 2008 fight over evolution’s prominence in the revised state science standards that made news headlines across the state and the country. That controversy inspired Haught to research other evolution battles in Florida’s history, resulting in Going Apehttp://www.brandonhaught.com

 

Guest Blog: Start by Starting, and other Strategies for Aspiring Writers by Sarah Symons

ImageAlmost everyone I know has an idea for a book or screenplay. Some of these ideas are quite compelling, and I for one would love to read them. However, writing a book – actually completing one and getting it edited and published – is a challenging undertaking, and many great ideas are lost along the way.

Believe me, I had many bumps in the road on my journey to completing This is No Ordinary Joy. Writing this book (from the day I typed the first word to the day I got my first galley copy) took a full five years! Many times I nearly gave up. Okay, I’ll be completely honest: I did give up a few times, but thankfully came back from the ledge with the help of some good friends, some helpful strategies learned along the way, and driven by the overwhelming compulsion to share my story (how I went from being a TV music composer living on Cape Cod, to helping girls get free and remain free from modern day slavery in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand).

I hope these strategies will be helpful to any of you readers and book-lovers out there who also aspire to write a book:

Strategy #1 – Start by Starting
Thinking about a book does not have the same benefits as writing one. You will love the feeling of accomplishment you get from writing even just one page or chapter. Forget about making an elaborate outline of your story, and just put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). As Stephen King suggested in his book ‘On Writing’, put your characters in a situation and see what they do. Discover what happens as you write it. It will come together. But first you have to take that first step. Just do it!

Strategy #2 – Ask a Friend
Three years into my writing process, I was over halfway finished, and then lost my laptop (and a year’s worth of writing) in an airport. I know, I know, I should have backed up my work. But I didn’t, and then I felt so frustrated and beleaguered, I wrote nothing at all for 6 months. When I told my friend Nicole my sorry tale, she offered to help by becoming my first reader and editor, and my writing accountability partner. She suggested I email her one page a day for the next 2 months. She read each page I sent, and gave encouragement and some editorial comments. Her main mission was just to help me move forward, and it worked! Three months later I had my first draft completed.

Strategy #3 – No Editing or Marketing While You Write!
Editing is easier for me than writing, and I at first became obsessed with working and reworking everything I had written. That, combined with a lack of a disciplined daily writing practice (more on that below) was why I only wrote 30 pages my whole first year. Another creativity-crushing approach was trying to figure out my sales and marketing plan while I was writing the book. ‘Who is going to be interested in my story?’ I worried. ‘How am I going to get it out to the potential readers? How much is too much to share?’ Of course, this line of thought made me feel terribly insecure and shut down my creative process, paralyzing my writing. You will have plenty of time to edit and to create a marketing plan when you have finished writing your first draft. Trying to do those things too early will only ensure that you never have a finished product to edit and sell.

Strategy #4 – Daily Practice
If you always wait for inspiration to strike, or for the perfect quiet moment to do your writing, you are unlikely to finish your book. Instead, set aside time every day – even if it is only 20 minutes some days – to write. If for any reason you are unable to start working on your book, then write in a journal or write a blog. I have established a daily writing practice, which helps both with my creative writing (I’m currently writing a novel) and with writing for my work (I write blogs for Relevée, a social purpose jewelry company related to my work fighting slavery). I find that my business writing, journal writing and creative writing inform and inspire each other, and when I start writing for one purpose, I often get into the groove, and end up doing more writing of a different kind.

Strategy #5 – Chardonnay!
This strategy might not be right for everyone, and if you’re in recovery, you could substitute a steaming hot cup of green tea or chai. But whatever feels like a treat to help you relax, and most importantly to define for yourself and everyone else that this is your time, set aside for your creativity, go for it. Pour a glass of wine (or tea), tell your kids that ‘it is mom or dad’s quiet time and you are welcome to join me by doing your own creative activity, but please don’t bother me for the next 30 minutes’ and get writing!

Sarah Symons is the author of This is No Ordinary Joy, available for the Book Festival, Sept. 27, through The BookMark of Neptune Beach, and at Amazon.com. Learn more about her work and vision at www.MadebySurvivors.com