ghostwriting

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part IV

This is the final installment of this four-part series.

Quoting from my old blog, 2012:

Tired of showing pictures of my notebook, so here’s one of my 2012 desk window.

Tired of showing pictures of my notebook, so here’s one of my 2012 desk window.

70,083 words on Day 14!

I’m done. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. I delivered the second half of the manuscript today to the jet-setting El Jefe. I hit 70,000 easily this AM, did a spell-check and packed the sucker off for a read.

Are we done? Far from it. The contract asks for 80,000, and I’ve written 70,000. Experience has taught me that when the titular authors read what you’ve given them, it sparks their creatvitiy and you will always hit your numbers. They are adders, not subtracters.

To think of another way: I supplied 7/8 of the book; our man in the sky will supply the other other 1/8, whether in the form of actual copy or by suggestions. He’s already written given me 4,000 words to be sprinkled here and there throughout the book. (I’m not counting those yet, preferring to quote you just the words I created during this marathon.)

I’ve got a week before he gets back into town. Time to turn to some personal projects. A magazine article that needs changes. Some edits to short stories I’ve been dying to submit. And after that, I may just be helping my wife ghost a project she needs to get done.

The weather has warmed up here and I’d really enjoy going out for bit.

2019 Commentary:

Well, younger me seems very pleased with himself, and who can blame him? He did all this work in a short period of time. He came close to ruining his health by sitting in a chair for 18 hours a day. But he got the book written. Yay him. But he’s still down 10,000 words from the contracted figure.

But here's the thing. I just went back and looked at the final manuscript. It stands at 78,393 words, which means that El Jefe and I managed to come up with another 8,400 words before the book went to the copy editor. That’s awesome. Great comeback, and a great illustration of how these collaborations work.

I will say that though he fought us during the process, he was ultimately blown away by the response of readers who were fascinated by the emotional power of the book. They saw a side of him that they didn’t think existed. From that moment on, he was more comfortable openly discussing those aspects of his earlier life in interviews. That wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t done a book.

He just didn’t know that the lion’s share of the writing came together over 14 days.



If you missed any part of these posts, you can follow the progress here.

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part I

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part II: 55,000 and Counting...

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part III: 66,000 words and One Day Left

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part IV: 70,083 words on Day 14

This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 21, 2012.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part III

This is the third of a four-part series.

Quoting from my old blog, Feb. 2012:

IMG_0444.jpg

66,000 words and one day left!

I stopped calculating my per-day average because I’m actually in the home stretch, though it may not look like it. End of business today I cleared 66,649 words total on this ghostwriting project, and I only have one more chapter to go. That chapter will bring me to 70,000 or darn close to it.

Close enough to 70,000 to relax, that is.

Our author, El Jefe, is dashing to Asia for a week, and I’d like to present him with the second half of the book before he leaves Thursday. That’s easily doable.

The reason I’m not worried about hitting 80,000 is that said author has already answered some of my queries on the first half of the MS, supplying extra 4,000 words I can quite reasonably use. 

We are so there.

On February 6, we had zero words. Now we have a definite 74,000. Maybe. If El Jefe’s additions to the whole MS are as copious as the first batch, we’ll probably have to cut words. See how that happens?

And do you see, James Patterson, why you should hire me? See contact page for further instructions.

2019 Commentary:

I’m actually kind of surprised seeing this come together so well. I had forgotten that El Jefe got back to me with so many workable additions. Usually I have to wait until the first draft is completely done and the editor has given us his or her notes before receiving that kind of helpful feedback into the extra. So…great! Younger me was actually doing better than 2019 me thought he was.

Patterson never called. I don’t blame him. Novels are a different animal entirely.


If you missed one of these posts, you can catch up here:

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part I

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part II: 55,000 and Counting...

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part III: 66,000 words and One Day Left!

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part IV: 70,083 words on Day 14


This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 20, 2012.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part II

This is the second of a four-part series appearing this week.

Quoting from my old blog, circa 2012:

IMG_0432.jpg

55,000 words and counting!

My writing marathon is now in its 11th day and I really have to crank if I want to improve my per-day average. Last week, the per-day average was running about 5,700 words a day.

I took two days off to proof the first half of the MS in order to send what I’d written to the titular author—a dude am I calling El Jefe—and get him thinking about edits, or additions he’d like to make. I only wrote on three weekdays this week; ramping up again was slow. That brought my overall average down to 5,500 a day. But I have this weekend to beetle away. I hope to make some serious progress.

Technically, I only have to make it to 70,000 words, which is a mere 15,000 words away, or the length of a novella I read recently. Why only 70,000 words when the contract calls for an 80,000-word book?

Because I’ve learned from past experience on these ghostwriting projects that the act of reading the first draft typically stimulates the bylined authors to start tossing out ideas and anecdotes they never thought to mention before. Invariably, we end up running long once we add the new material in.

Over the years I’ve learned to leave a good “roominess margin.” It’s less painful to add 10,000 last-minute words than to cut 10,000 words we already love. That’s my logic, anyway.

Of course it would have to be a sunny, 60-degree day on this North Carolina mountain. But I am not going to step outside to enjoy it. Not one bit.

2019 Commentary:

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Reading this again today, I’m struck by how quickly I reached for “oh-I-don’t-really-have-to-write-the-full-80,000 words” argument. Most of the publishers I’ve worked with specify a word count in their contract, but will theoretically accept anything within 10 percent of the contracted figure. That means they would have been fine with a 72,000-word book, and wouldn’t start to freak out until they were presented with a 88,000-word manuscript.

The real reason I was starting to look for an easy out is partially explained in the second graf above. I was slow ramping up in the second week of writing because I was just so tired and wiped out. The writing-all-day, researching-all-night routine was catching up to me. There was second reason as well, one that I never got into in the original post because it probably made me too uncomfortable to mention.

The truth is, on some of these chapters I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The author had promised a tell-all type of book about his industry, but when the time came to spill the beans, he got coy. I’ve seen it happen a million times, and I was prepared for it. During our interviews together, we tried hard to get him to reveal his secrets and his vulnerable side, but he fought us on it for months.

It’s hard to write about a famous person’s interior life when they haven’t let you see that part of them. Bit by bit, he started to crack, and we were able to stick a crowbar in those parts of his stories, and get him to tell us more. But until you sit down to write those scenes, you have no idea if a particularly juicy anecdote is going to be 4,000 words or a mere 400. As I was writing, it surprised me that many of the scenes I thought would make great chapters ended up being nothing but a small passage.

The Joe I see in this post is a nervous guy who’s looking at his notes and wondering if he has enough to fill a book. Let’s see if he does.

 

You can follow my progress in these four posts:

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part I

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part II: 55,000 and Counting...

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part III: 66,649 and One Day Left

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part IV: 70,083 words on Day 14

 

This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 18, 2012.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part I

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In February of 2012, I embarked on a bizarre experiment: to write what would ultimately be a 78,000-word, nonfiction book in 14 days. It was a cool accomplishment—a first for me—but not one I’d attempt again unless I worked smarter.

I do a lot of ghostwriting, and this particular book was for one of my clients. He was extremely pleased with the results, and the book went on to get great reviews and help solidify his brand.

That said, let me say up front that while it’s possible to write a book this quickly, this is NOT the ideal way to handle such a project. Please don’t think I’m bragging about it. I was delighted to know that I could write a book this fast, but I don’t ever want to write a book that way ever again.

It’s the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter to write a college term paper you should have been writing over the course of the semester. I learned my lesson, and have since managed to work smarter on subsequent projects.

I wrote about the project on my old blog, so what I’ll do this week is share my old posts on the topic, followed by my 2019 commentary on the project. Here’s what I said back then:

This isn’t some wishful thinking project. The book has been contracted, and due to a publisher (one of the Big Five) ridiculously soon. I have to get it done quickly, ergo the experiment. Since it’s a ghost project, I can’t discuss the topic but I can tell you that it’s a nonfiction business memoir—not a how-to, not a diet or exercise book—but dense nonfiction for a sports celebrity client, which adds to its complexity.

Specifically, I’m finding I can’t write a sentence without either first checking facts or checking them after, which lowers my daily word count. Unlike fiction, I don’t have the luxury of making it up, then going back to smooth out implausibilities.

How am I doing? Fine, considering. The output’s been an average of 5,700 words a day, some days more, some days less.

But I am concerned how tired it’s making me. I’ve been getting up early at 5 or 6 a.m. and working till after midnight, using the time in the evening hours to plan or research what I’m going to do the next day.

At the end of the first week, I stopped writing when I hit 40,000 words to carefully proof what I’d written. That took a day and a morning. Then I sent the first half in PDF form to the “author” so he could read it on his iPad while on the road. Now I’ll restart the clock and finish the rest of this sucker.

2019 Commentary: 

Looking back, I realize that this post didn’t really give a lot of context. I’m going to try to add that back now. In the year I wrote this book, my wife and I wrote four different books. I was co-authoring a nonfiction science title that became Blind Spot. Denise was writing and researching The Girls of Atomic City

On top of these two, we were offered contracts to write two memoirs—one for an actor, another for the sports business dude whose book I discuss here. At the end of January 2012, Denise had finished and submitted her manuscript for The Girls of Atomic City to her editor. And I had finished the secondary round of edits to Blind Spot.

We had cleared our respective decks. We decided that Denise would write the actor’s book, and I’d take the lead on the business memoir. On February 5, she flew to Los Angeles to begin five weeks of interviews with the actor. The next day, I starting writing the business memoir. Seven days later, I had the 40,000 words I mentioned here.

Here’s what I didn’t mention in the old blog post: We sold the biz memoir about a year earlier in February or March 2011. And over the course of the next ten months, my wife and I did hour-long, once-a-week phone interviews with the author. We missed some weeks here and there if he was traveling. But the one “hard” date that never wavered was our deadline. The first draft was due to the editor on March 1, 2012.

So by the time I sat down to write in February 2012, I had a ton of interview notes, and about 20 to 25 hours of audio interviews. The trouble was, I had never taken the time to transcribe or re-listen to that audio. Not smart. I have no excuse other than that fact that I was busy writing other books.

So in February 2012, that’s what I was doing most nights after sucking down a hasty dinner. I’d sit on the couch with a notebook, listen to the audio, and make cheat sheets to help me through the next day’s writing sessions. I’d note the topic we were discussing in a particular piece of audio, and the timestamp so I could find the discussion easily. That’s how I managed to get through each day’s writing, hammering out a chunk of text from memory, and then going back to the audio to confirm that what I’d written was correct. At the same time, when I got a chance, I’d research small factoids online. 


You can follow my progress in these follow-up posts:

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part I

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part II: 55,000 and Counting...

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part III: 66,649 words and One Day Left

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part IV: 70,083 words on Day 14

Please note: This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 15, 2012. (I waited until the book was nearly done to start posting my notes on the process.)


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.




Picasso's Bull—or, Does Writing Fast Mean Your Work Will Suck?

No bull. Just expertise. I love how he does the horns.

My late journalism professor John C. Keats came from the school of hard-hitting newspapermen of the 1940s and 50s. Later in life he switched to magazine work, which was more lucrative. In one story he told, a publication paid his way from Philadelphia to New York so that he could be on the premises while they edited his work. They were in a rush to get the article edited so those pages could be shipped to the printer. They put him in a nice office with a typewriter, where he worked on other projects while waiting to be summoned. He enjoyed fine lunches and a lovely hotel room at their expense. Finally, after a week, an anxious editor brought in some sheets of paper with some redline comments. "Here it is! We're going to need this right away. When do you think you could get it to us?"

"You can have it in fifteen minutes if you get out and shut the door," Keats said. He was always a little cantankerous. (Read more about him here.)

His editors were under the impression that their edits would require a lot of time to work through. So much time that they imported the writer and installed him close to their offices for one expensive week.

Nothing has changed in 50 years. One thing that hasn't changed is that the person who actually does the work—let’s call that person the freelancer—must adhere to the deadlines, while deadlines for the freelancer’s clients are infinitely more elastic. But that’s another story.

What I really want to talk about is how people equate time with quality. If a book takes a long time to produce, people reason that it must be better than a book that took a short time to produce. A fast writer is judged harshly under this paradigm.

I do a lot of ghostwriting. I wrote a memoir for one client that changed the way people saw him. He gained new fans. His diehard fans loved him even more. All because the book showed his human side. It showed how he came up in the business world by guts and brains alone. Prior to this, the prevailing internet narrative held that he’d inherited a ton of money, or had been handed his career by successful relatives, which wasn’t true at all. Yet the whole time I was researching the book, he fought me on this, afraid to reveal his real story and his vulnerability. But I finally managed to wrench it out of him. The book’s emotionality is what people praise about it to this day.

Our interviews took several months to complete. But in the end, that book took me 14 days to write. (I have a couple of posts coming that talk about this project.)

My wife went through something similar on another ghost project. By the time the editors hired my wife, the book was already in danger of becoming a “problem” in the minds of the editors and the publishing house. The previous writer had walked, nothing had been written, and the deadline was looming fast. On a conference call, my wife announced that meeting a deadline only two months away was reasonable and achievable. The “author” expressed concern: “That’s too soon. This needs to be good.”

The implication: Shouldn't this process take years?

Another book, one of our own that I wrote with Denise, went on to sell 100,000 copies. It was our first big book. People began inviting us to come speak to their groups because of it. At those events, someone would inevitably ask how long it took us to write that book. It’s the sort of thing people always ask writers.

“Five years,” I’d say, telling them what they wanted to hear.

Actually, it took us a month. Not that we wanted it to; it just happened that way. We were really organized, and devoted to the process.

So we’ve been through this a lot. People don’t want to accept that a good first draft of a book can be written in such a short amount of time. If it can, goes the thinking, it can't possibly be any good.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t love to write a book that fast. I actually think it’s nice to have a generous amount of time to write a project, take a break from it, then revise it carefully, digitally and on paper. But I don’t always have the luxury of time, because of deadlines and other commitments.

But it is possible to write fast and well. I have one friend who for a while adhered to an insane production schedule, writing a novel a month. He didn’t love doing it, but he could do it. And he did it because that’s what he had to do—at that moment in time—to pay his bills.

I’m sure that there are musicians who’ve written hit songs in days, hours, or even minutes. Stallone wrote the first Rocky script in three and a half days. I know local artists who crank out great examples of their work in days so they’ll have a good inventory to sell at arts festivals at the end of the month. I know designers who do the same thing. They just keep churning the work out, and you can’t tell that they did it in such a short amount of time. All these people do what they do because they’ve attained a certain level of mastery. In the words of another co-writing client of mine, they’re experts.

I took a lot of art classes when I was a kid. I remember one instructor telling me to stop making sloppy circles on my page as a way of warming up, and learn how to put down one correct line instead.

Watch Picasso draw that bull in thirty seconds. Look at how he knows just how to move his hand to create the slope of the bull’s back. When he flicks the brush at the bull’s head, he knows from years of experience that the bristles will leave a stroke suggestive of the bull’s horn. And he knows just how little paint to apply to hint at the bull’s legs.

It's not the time but the talent of the artist that matters. Experts do a lot with the time handed them.


* This post appeared in slightly different form on my old blog, dated March 3, 2012.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks! — Joseph D’Agnese


'Big Weed' in the New York Times

Incredibly, I missed this the other day. My co-author Christian Hageseth did a Q&A with the travel section of the New York Times, talking about his upcoming marijuana Colorado “weedery.” As he describes it in our book, Big Weed, a “weedery” is like a brewery or winery, except for legal marijuana.

From the article:

Wineries and breweries should brace themselves for some unusual competition. Colorado, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012, will get its first “weedery” in early 2016.

The $35 million project, Green Man Cannabis Ranch and Amphitheater, the brainchild of Christian Hageseth, is set to open in Denver. Its greenhouses represent a major shift because producers have largely cultivated marijuana indoors; there will also be a performance space, a restaurant, a rooftop bar, a gift shop and, of course, a marijuana dispensary.

Just When I Thought I was Out...They Pull Me Back In

I thought I’d be able to skate through 2014 with only one ghostwriting gig. The current ghost book is consuming a lot of my time, and I haven’t had much time for my own writing.

But just this week another interesting ghosting book popped up. I want to say no, but I shouldn’t. Who the hell am I to say no to paying work? To make it worse, it’s a fascinating nonfiction topic. The journalist in me is too easily captivated by a good story.

So right now I feel like Michael Corleone.