Starting a new book writing project: embracing the unknown

I've recently started working on a new company history project. I've conducted interviews with about 20 people and had those interviews transcribed. I've also been provided with a number of newspaper articles and other items from the archives. All up I have about 200,000 words of raw material that needs to be condensed down to about one tenth of that for the final book.

At the moment I don't have a clear idea of what the finished product is going to look like structurally. I have some major headings in mind, but what order they will be presented in is unknown. And those topics may change too. There might be a few 'ins' and 'outs' along the way.

But that's okay. What I've learnt over the years is that uncertainty at this stage of a book project, or any large creative project for that matter, is quite normal. Embracing the unknown at this point frees me up to keep going; worrying about it won't achieve anything and is likely to cause stagnation.

In these early stages I'm working in Scrivener, my go-to app for the task of sorting out raw materials – a job that is a bit like unscrambling eggs. I'm working through the transcriptions to isolate and categorise segments of the interviews under rough headings. Later I'll keep working in Scrivener as I create my outline and then work on the first draft.

Along the way I'll using another application – Aeon Timeline – to create a timeline of events. At some stage I might use a mindmap or cover a wall in sticky notes as I experiment with different ways of presenting the history.

Gradually, over the next couple of months, the project will start to shape itself into something with a more recognisable form. From there it will take on more and more definition until, after a couple of drafts, a polish, a good edit and then the final production process, the finished book will be born.

How can I be so sure that it will work out in the end? Because it always does. What I'm dealing with here are, in the infamous words of Donald Rumsfeld, 'known unknowns'. What I know is that there is no 'one right answer' to what this book should be. There are many right answers, and as I keep plugging away one of those right answers will reveal itself to me.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please add a comment below or contact me.

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