Peter Lourie
 WRITING ABOUT A RIVER, Part 3

After completing my journey down a river, it's time to write the book. The hardest thing for me is to hammer out a first draft. Why shouldn't it be difficult? A blank page sits before me, and now I have to make something from nothing.

To make the task less daunting, I take each step at a time. I don't focus on the finished product, but on smaller tasks. First thing I do is type out all the notes I've taken on my tape-recorder. Usually that's about 90 pages of text. Sometimes it's a lot more; other times it's less.

After the notes are typed, I go to a quiet place. I need complete concentration when I work on an essay, story, or book. Often this is in my own home, but before anyone is awake. Four or five in the morning is my most productive time.

On my first morning of work, I review my notes, leaf through history books about the river at
hand, then put everything aside. I try to think how best to tell the story of my adventure. I want the adventure to come alive. I want the reader to feel the adventure the way I felt it. So I think about structure, about beginning, middle, and end. I think about pace, the speed of the story. I think about tone, how the words sound. And I recall my feelings as I went down the river.

I work for many hours, but end up with about three pages a day. Some days less, some days
more. I try not to edit myself too much the first time around. I want to get at the heart of an adventure, its feeling. Thinking too much about my writing can stop me dead in my tracks.

After five or six days, I complete a rough draft of a short book. It's usually very rough, pretty bad actually. But I let it sit for a day, then rewrite it before sending it to my editor. I know it still
needs a lot of work.

When published, the book will be 48 pages. That means I have to send a 20-page manuscript, typed and double-spaced. I also send about three hundred photographs from my journey. Fifty of these will end up in the book.

After I send the book off, I wait for my editor's call. Sometimes he doesn't call for weeks. This is hard. When he calls, we talk about the draft. This begins the editing process. He says it needs work. And I feel disappointed, but I know he's right. He sees things I can't see because I'm too close to the material. He helps me with the overall thinking of the story. He asks me questions like: Should this be in the present tense? Can I add some history here? Can I shorten this passage? How might I tighten the prose in places?

Always his comments are helpful. I don't agree with him at times. For six months we edit. We
edit by talking over the phone, we edit by fax, and we edit on computer disks. I rewrite again and again. Gradually the book takes shape.

Finally the book is ready and the designer puts the text with the photos. After a little more editing and fine tuning, the designed book is scanned into a computer. A disk is made and the book is sent off to Hong Kong to get printed.

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