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Thursday, October 21, 2010

5 steps to writing a book from tape

I just finished working on a manuscript for one of my speaker clients and thought it might be instructive to deconstruct the process for those who are wondering how to get their books started. 

Now there’s writing, the laborious (and sometimes inspired) process I use to put one word after another on a blank sheet of paper or screen. And then there’s speaking-writing, for lack of a much better term. This is the method I use with this particular client. Let’s call him Dr. M. 

When we first started working together 10 years ago, Dr. M would give me a hard copy of his manuscript, and I’d make changes on the copy. A very messy process.

Thankfully, Dr. M's trust in me grew over time. At one point he'd give me a floppy disc (those were the days), and I'd make my corrections on the computer.

Over the years we fine-tuned this labor of love into a 5 step process.
  1. Dr. M dictates his book into a microcassette recorder.
  2. I transcribe the tapes. 
  3. I rewrite, research, and reorganize (if necessary) to flesh out the work. 
  4. I'll edit the entire manuscript a couple of times. This is the most humbling of times for me because of all the stuff I miss on the first editing pass. That's why I take the time to edit more than once.
  5. I proof. At this stage, I'm looking for typos and formatting issues. That's it. In a future post, I'll discuss proofing in depth. Technically I shouldn't even be proofing because my brain is probably decoding typos instead of seeing them, but when the client is on a budget, the editor wears many hats.
So that's the process. I think everyone should try and write at least one book, but if writing is like getting a root canal for you, then why fight it? If you're a talker, then go with the flow.

My part of the process, from transcribing to proofing, takes around 2 to 3 weeks, depending on the length and complexity of the manuscript. The benefit of having an editor or writer transcribe your speech is that I can do a couple of steps at one time. For example, a typist may give you a long paragraph of a document, including all your uh's, um's, and ya know's. As I'm transcribing, I'm paragraphing and doing minor copy editing along the way.

Speakers, make sure your equipment is working and your batteries have juice. Also, make sure you speak clearly and audibly into the recorder. There's nothing more frustrating than the McDonald's drive-thru experience where you can barely hear the person on the other end.

Dr. M and I are now a lean, mean writing team, and still, there's room for improvement. For example, he could email me MP3 files. Microcassettes are so 6 months ago. I used Express Scribe (free transcription software) to transcribe some sermons on MP3 files for a pastor friend, and I literally zoomed through the transcribing.

Our process works so well because Dr. M does a great job of planning out his books before recording. This is important: he doesn't just start recording extemporaneously. By the time he has recorded his first word, he has already sketched out his Table of Contents and the general direction of each chapter. Research and notes are at hand as he talks. 

Dr. M does his homework before he speaks one word, and that makes my job a lot easier – and his bill a lot cheaper.

Transcription is not appropriate for all speeches. For example, if you are a purely extemporaneous speaker who, like my sister, likes to meander with stories that have nothing to do with the subject but are great audience pleasers, your off-the-cuff speeches may not be good candidates for this process. I once tried to transcribe the sermon of a preacher who spoke from the Spirit. That was an exercise in futility. Powerful on the pulpit, not so on the page. But try it. You never know.

On the other hand, I once transcribed a few sermons for a pastor, and I was amazed at how well they turned out. Not a lot of repetition, uh huh's, mmmm's, and amen's?. I told him, "You speak book!"

Transcribing speeches is a wonderful way for speakers to speed up the process of writing a book. Just keep in mind that you'll still have more writing to do.

Donna Marie

1 comment:

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