By Erin Tolley
When Chris Alcantara asked me to write something for the blog, his instructions were vague: “tips on writing a book” and, the part I remember more clearly, the promise of a free beer. I brainstormed a list of 10 or so suggestions (write everyday! respond carefully to your reviews!), but as I looked through the list, I realized that there’s really only one piece that applies to everyone and it’s this: find a system that works for you.
Maybe you’re a freeform writer who balks at an outline. Or perhaps you’re more of a sprinter than a marathoner when it comes to putting words on pages. It doesn’t much matter how you write your book as long as you keep moving forward toward your ultimate goal of holding that sucker in your hands, looking down and seeing your name on the cover. So, instead of dictating what you should to do, I’m just going to tell you a bit about how I wrote my book, Framed: Media and the Coverage of Race in Canadian Politics. You can decide if anything that I did might also work for you.
Framed was based in part on my dissertation research so, for me, a big part of writing the book was chopping out parts that were too dissertation-y, as well as recasting the language so that my own voice and argument came through. My smart editor, Emily Andrew, emphasized that a key difference between the dissertation and the book is the audience. A dissertation is mostly written for your committee and looks inward at the discipline. A good book should be written for a broader audience and look outward at the world. What do your findings mean, not for your subfield, but rather for politics, for democracy, for citizens? Instead of starting sentences with the names of other authors, I needed to put my own words at the forefront.
I also needed to think about the implications of my research. In the dissertation, I emphasized theory. A lot. In the book, I did, but to a lesser extent. In the concluding chapter, I talked about solutions. I made recommendations aimed at improving the media’s coverage of race in politics. I noted that more research is needed, but this was not my parting shot. Instead, I talked about things journalists and candidates and citizens could do to strengthen political news coverage. I also reflected honestly and somewhat more personally on my research and, in particular, on my standpoint as a white woman writing about race in politics. The process of revising the dissertation and of writing a book had given me more confidence in my findings, and that confidence is reflected in the tone of my writing.
Finally, because books can only get published if you actually send them to the Press, I pushed myself to meet a hard submission deadline of August 11, 2014. My daughter was due to arrive 2 weeks later, and I wanted the manuscript under review so I could put my feet up before my life was thrown into chaos, er, bliss. I forced myself to work on the manuscript every Monday to Friday, and I developed daily and weekly mini-deadlines that kept me honest. As planned, I submitted the whole thing on August 11 and made an appointment for a massage and a pedicure. My daughter was born less than 24 hours later. So, go ahead and set deadlines, but remember there are some due dates that are just completely out of your hands.
Erin Tolley is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Framed: Media and the Coverage of Race in Canadian Politics, which was awarded the 2017 Donald Smiley Prize.