Thursday, December 3, 2009

Guest Blogger Allison Gilbert on Research, Calendars, Deadlines, and oh yes, Writing the Darn Book

It's always a pleasure to spot Allison Gilbert across the room at a gathering of writing community friends – she's invariably smiling, eager to swap work stories, quick with an encouraging comment, and in good humor. Add to this her many accomplishments and awards (including an Emmy) and it's easy to see why I feel privileged to have her here on the blog today. Allison is deeply entrenched in finishing her next book, but agreed to take a small break to write this guest post.

Please welcome Allison Gilbert.

I'm WRITING a book.

As part of the research for that forthcoming book, Parentless Parents: How the Deaths of Our Mothers and Fathers Impact the Way We Parent Our Own Children, I’ve launched an online survey, constructed with the help of a research scientist. The results will provide unparalleled depth and analysis to my work. If you’re a mom or a dad, and have lost both your parents, you are invited to take the survey too.

In addition, I have also flown across the country conducting multiple focus groups, participated in dozens of one-on-one interviews, and spoken with numerous experts in various fields of research. My agent and editor are both thrilled with my progress. They believe I am right on schedule to deliver my finished manuscript on deadline – in April, 2010.

So then why am I so freaked out that I’ll wake up in April and realize I’ve forgotten to write the book? Why am I jerked awake by the same type of nightmare I used to have in college? I used to dream that I’d have to take a final exam for a class I’d registered for, but forgotten to attend, all semester. I have the same fear of failure about writing my book.

Sometimes I lay awake with clammy hands and dry mouth thinking about all the words I’ve yet to write, all the Microsoft Word documents I’ve left half-blank, and all the chapters I’ve written (I have two left to go) that are still littered with incomplete thoughts and sentences. I’ll get back to that part later, I think. But “later” will be here very soon. Later is coming.

Five months from now may seem like a long time, but to me, hearing “five more months” fills me with panic. The holidays will no doubt fill my days with endless distractions, and what about all
those snow days that will keep my kids out of school and under my feet?

For some writers, gathering information and checking facts is scary. It seems too big. Too daunting. Not to me. I’ve been a television news producer at ABC News, then NBC, and now CNN. I know who to call on every story and reach out to anyone without trepidation. My attitude is never, Why would this very-important-person talk to me? It’s, When can we schedule a time for this very-important-person-to-talk-to-me?

Research is my happy place. I could hide in research forever. So my fear is that I could very easily open my eyes one morning and realize I’ve done nothing but research, that I've forgotten to pull all those loose facts into a coherent narrative. I could wake up and realize I’ve forgotten to write the book.

While most of us in the Northeast will welcome the eventual thaw that will follow the coming winter months, I’ll be dreading it. I welcome the burrowing impact of winter. I welcome snow and ice and anything that will keep me inside my house (without guilt) so that I may hibernate and finish this book.

Joe Nocera, a writer for the New York Times, spelled out this need in a recent column announcing his leave of absence from the paper. He said he’s taking a break from the paper until he finishes his book, also due, coincidentally, this spring. “There comes a time in the life of every book writer when he or she has to stop procrastinating and write the darn book.” Nocera ends his column by adding, “See you in the spring.”

While I haven’t been procrastinating, maybe I have been making myself a little too busy with research. So, like Joe, I’ll see you in the spring… after I write my darn book.

Note from Lisa: Hop over to the Huffington Post to read Allison's excellent recent piece there about her forthcoming book, including some of the important insights she's gathered from her surveys. And check out her 2006 book, the lovely Always Too Soon: Voices of Support for Those Who Have Lost Both Parents.


Alexis Grant said...

Great post. I can relate -- I'm a newspaper journalist writing my first book. Now that I'm done with a draft and revising, it's moving along quickly. But when this process was all about typing new words into a blank Word document, I always seemed more comfortable with the research, with short blog posts about the process, with unrelated freelance assignments. Writing a book is an entirely different beast! Best of luck with yours.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Alexis!!! It is SO different, you are right. I hope your first book is going well. :)

Allison Gilbert said...

Hmmmm I think I pressed the wrong button.
Allison, not anonymous :)