Now came the hustle. Each of my chapters needed its characters locked down, interviews set, and hypothesis explored. I still didn't know whom I would end up including in each chapter—based on access and answers I gained. Also, many of the people I wanted to reach were not the types you can simply call up on a weekend. Several would require months of scheduling in advance. So the first thing I did was make a spider diagram for each of my potential characters; the diagram had the person's name in the center and "legs" shooting out, each indicating potential people in their lives and careers whom I might research or interview before seeking out the main character. Then, I started making phone calls. I wanted to go into every interview as prepared as possible, which is one of the reasons I started with outer layers around my main characters. But I also knew that some people would require a "winning over" of a gatekeeper or two before I could get interview access.
Essentially, for each chapter I bought up every book, looked at ever academic paper (hooray for Google Scholar!), and called or emailed every expert I could find on the subject. I took a crazy amount of weekend flights to meet sources in LA or London or Chicago, since I was still working at Contently during the week. The last question of every interview was, "Who else should I talk to?"
My chapter hypotheses were wrong half the time. But that was half the fun, and if you reach the book you'll see that the chapters are often structured like an intellectual journey. It turns out that most of these mimic my actual research journey.
I won't bore you with the details of every bit of research. (The end notes and bibliography of Smartcuts say all that needs to be said!) Everyone researches her own way. The more interesting part of my writing process was my schedule:
One of the most stressful parts of writing a book is the revision process where you throw everything away and have to rewrite the book on a tight deadline before it has to go to press. I wanted to get as much feedback along the way so that I could make the final revision process more powerful, and to get more rounds of revisions in than a typical book might on the tight turnaround I had (10 months).
So, I designed a schedule and sent it to my editor and agent:
- On the last day of every month, I would turn in one new chapter draft.
- By the 15th of each month, my editor would return revision notes on the previous chapter.
- On the last day of every subsequent month, I would turn in a second draft of the previous chapter along with the new chapter.
This was aggressive, but it was awesome for helping me to get kinks out early. Unfortunately, I got behind on my research and my editor got busy with other books after the first six or seven chapters, so the last third of the book happened a couple of weeks behind-schedule. I ended up taking Month 10 off of work to finish everything and to write my epilogue and introduction.
Note that I did not write all of my chapters in order. In fact, the order went something like 4, 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 7, 2, 9, and finally a complete trashing and rewrite of Chapter 1 during the third round of revisions of the final manuscript—not to mention the numerous chapters that changed significantly during the first revision.
I wrote during early mornings, late nights, weekends, and holidays. But the most important were the mornings. I scheduled myself to write from 6-9am every day for the entire 10 months. This way the book became a habit. I would go to bed thinking about what I'd write in the morning, and wake up with fresh ideas.