Progress with writing the book

Inspired by a new comment on my last post, it’s time for an update .
I’ve found that going from writing the occasional blog post and preparing course materials to writing a novel with four (potentially more) main characters is a little like going from composing a doorbell chime to composing the Ring Cycle! Turns out there’s quite a lot to handle.
Most of the work I’m up to is research. The great advice “write what you know” definitely applies. So to write about Mesolithic hunter-gatherers is taking a whole chunk of research, this not being a lifestyle with which I’m personally highly experienced. Toddling down to Whole Foods and the local farmers’ market doesn’t count, it turns out.
Now, this research is reward in itself. I’ve been learning about hunter-gatherer er… hunting and gathering. Ray Mears is the fellow for that, and his excellent series (and book) on wild foods now on YouTube. That’s led me to scratch the surface of anthropology with Robert L. Kelly’s “The Lifeways of Hunter-Gatherers: The Foraging Spectrum” chock full of interesting data about, for instance, the ratio of energy expended versus energy gained for various foodstuffs. I’m sure that your Mesolithic forager wasn’t thinking in calories, but you can bet your boots that when your life’s major concerns are food, shelter, and safety that you get really good at acquiring them for the least effort. Had I a spare lifetime, I’d so nerd out with this whole field.
Then there’s how youngsters are brought up. (I’m avoiding the word “children” where possible since there are strong arguments for the concept of “childhood” being a relatively modern development.) “Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution” is a very dry title for a rather entertaining, if academic, collection of papers on child-rearing over the millennia. Clearly this is a field filled with scholars capable of adding delight and wit to their scholarship. The short version seems to be that little ones, long ago and once weened, learned by playing. Their play would largely consist of imitating adults, and so, with a little adult supervision and gradual inclusion into the world of adults, often formalized with a rite of passage, humans grew from dependent infants to great competence without any hint of formal education for almost all of human history.
And so these are just two of the many themes in the book: survival and “education”. Others are family, social group size and society, communication, possibly religion (a hot potato, so we’ll see), sex and gender, dogs and other animals’ domestication, fun and fear, tools, music and art, and the big one – relationships.
I’ve started writing, and have finished first drafts of the Mesolithic sections of the first three chapters. This has revealed to me just how much is entailed in keep track of details to ensure consistency. It’s also revealed how much research I’ll have to do when I get to the farmer character, as I’m still not clear if they’re going to be set early in the Agricultural Revolution, or in the middle, or towards the end. Much research and drafting will get me there. When it comes to the Industrial character, there’s a much shorter timescale and I’m familiar with most of it through my degree in literature and delight in Victorian history. Of course, when I finally get to the last character, the software engineering manager, this is a world where I can “write what I know” with very little research at all!
All the characters move through the arc of the Hero’s Journey dealing with all these themes, and through them demonstrating that we have become less and less well adapted to the world we’ve been creating.
But there is something we can do about it…

The book I’m writing

I’m publically declaring here that I’m writing a book.  People close to me have urged me to say this in public to create a structure of accountability and support to make sure it actually gets done.

The Book

“The Wolf in the Workplace”: a novel of four parallel lives.

Why?

The intention of the book is to leave people clear that they can learn to do what it takes, with ease and grace, to lead a life they love, regardless of circumstances.

What?

It is the story of four people. They all live in what we now know of as the South of England, in Hampshire.

The first lives roughly 12,000 years ago, as a hunter gatherer at the time of the end of the last ice age. His name, unrecorded anywhere, but if we were to know it in modern English, would be Swimming Bear. He lives as humans have lived for 10,000 generations, fully adapted to their environment.

The next lives about 4,000 years ago, as agriculture is causing humans to settle down, and in settling down they are discovering that they have been domesticated by their crops and livestock, and that the new “civil” society brings problems as well as benefits. His name, Mael, is in records of trade with merchants from Southern lands.

The next, Harry Arkwright, is an industrial worker living about 200 years ago. I’ve yet to decide if he works at the Portsmouth Block Mills, the world’s first production line, or if he’s a piece worker making chair parts for one of the great cabinet makers, or if, poor man, he’s stuck working in a textile or iron mill. His life sucks, and is physically very hard.

Lastly we have Sheldon Park, a software engineering manager, living right now. His life looks pretty good from the outside, but on the inside he’s in agony and misery. Under pressure at work and in a lousy relationship with kids that don’t respect him, he lives from moment to moment hoping something will make it better. One day.

The four stories will all pass through the same spaces of human development. In each space, their experience will differ increasingly dramatically. Swimming Bear’s life never occurs to him as “hard” as he’s fully equipped for it. Sheldon’s life is awful as he has no “built-in” equipment that actually works for this life. It was all created for Swimming Bear’s life! And yet, Sheldon gets an extra that the others don’t – he is introduced to The Work (an imagined synthesis of Landmark, NLP, Theory U, Conversations for Action, neuroscience, paleo-anthropology, sociology, all the ologies, etc etc) that transforms his experience of life. The point being that his misery was inevitable and out of his control until his view of it totally alters, and he gets that with an act of will, continuous practice, and recreating his intentions every moment, he can have the most astounding life.

How?

1. Build out the form of the book. Four lives, parallel spaces (the Hero’s Journey provides the essential spaces), different experiences in each space. Several physical “McGuffins” connect them all: canines (the “Wolf” in the title), a flint arrow head, their diets and physical exercise, their family and “tribal” relationships, and so on.

2. Write the stories – the content within the form. See what emerges.

3. Test: Show people, see what it means to them, what it evokes, and do so iteratively and incrementally (huh…!) Take results into account to add to or modify the intention, form, or content of the book.

4. Find professional support for publishing. A publisher and an experienced novel editor to guide this into actual production.

5. Public response. How many copies sold? What reviews? What do people say on Goodreads?

The first three will happen together, iteratively and incrementally. The fourth will get started first thing in the New Year, and of course, may change the target completion date.

Schedule

-By Dec 31st 2016: Have the framework largely established, the core characters well fleshed out, their supporting characters determined and fleshed out (e.g. “the clothes-maker” – a wise person who whispers in all their ears. FYI, making clothes is actually the world’s oldest profession!). The narratives all at first rough sketchy draft. Updates publicly posted on my blog.

I’ll also get a clearer sense of the rhythm of working on this.

-Between Jan 1st 2017 and April 30th 2017: Find and engage a publisher and editor. Adjust the book within their advice. Redraft the narrative until there’s an emotional reaction from test readers – without that the book can’t live.

Support requested:

You all can help me by looking out for where I’m wriggling out of getting this done. There will be tons of fascinating research, so please check in with me whether it’s actually contributing to the book or if it’s become a rabbit hole. (I’ve already got into researching the habits of wolves, how to make flint weapons and tools, how ancient people were named, the history of the industrial revolution etc etc. Awesome!!!!)

I’ll also “get busy” and offer ingenious and highly enrolling reasons for not working on the book. I may get resentful and defensive when you check in with me, and try to hide it. I’ll forget to check in. I’ll drill into detail (“aka get fascinated”) so check that I’m heading out the other side of the detail to the Big Point that will be actually useful.

I’ll start not getting enough sleep: I’ll stay up late writing then f*ck-up work because I’m fuzzy headed and use it as a reason to bail on the book. (aka Sustainable Pace).

I’ll, of course, totally miss what I don’t know that I don’t know, so feel free to point out the glaringly obvious stuff to which I appear to be wholly oblivious!

Thanks!

If you’d asked me beforehand how I’d feel if someone declared that a whole team was going to be standing over my shoulder as I worked on this, I’d have lied to you, then run for the hills!

But when a coaching team member actually declared that the team’s job was to make sure this got done, my actual experience was overwhelming relief! And then an urge to run!

As a good friend keeps reminding me “It’s worth doing if your reaction is ‘Yes! Yes… Hell NO!’”