Writing my onlne book Memes for the Creation of a New Culture has been an intense and surprising process, different than the way my first book was written. back in the days before the internet and also different than the way that most books are written, even up the present day.
I decided to take the leap of creating an entire book online about two years ago. I started it by blogging the book but quickly realized shortly into the first chapter that blogging and publishing a book length work are so different that it is better not to try and combine them in the same place.
A blog is an online journal composed of a series of online posts, each with a title and often organized by date. Beyond those specifics, blogs range a wide gamut of written content, ranging from a collection of essays or editorials on the long end and on the other end of the extreme, the blogging genre sometimes called micro-blogging, posting in short bursts,, taking the form of sharing a link to some other content online, another post, some news, a video or picture, sometimes with bit of commentary and sometimes without.
Micro-blogging itself has spread to other online genres, starting with group micro-blogs like Digg and Delicious, and made popular by the social media giants, Facebook and Google+.
Writing a book is more than a share, more than a post, it is a putting forth a sequenced hierarchy of essays comprising a long narrative on a consistent theme. The process of writing a book off-off-line is more like a trial by fire than the civilized process I imagine most people think it is. A book sometimes starts with a proposal and sometimes without one. But it can involve the writing and rewriting, organizing and reorganizing or major sections as well as several levels of proofreading. That is before it finds its way to the printing press, if it manages to get that far.
The idea of publishing a book online has a lot going for it. Seth Goodin in a 2007 post, Advice for Authors points out book authoring and publishing are both really hobbies, not lucrative businesses. Only a few writers, mostly fiction writers, Stieg Larsson, Stephanie Meyer. Steven King, Anne Rice, J.K. Rawling and perhaps one or two others find book authoring financially gratifying.
Another problem with print book publishing, according to Goodin, is the long gap, that span of time between when an author gets a contract, or even when they submit their manuscript and when the book finally hits the bookstores, that can be a year or more. That was fine back before the advent of the Internet, which seen the information explosion go on steroids. By the time a book hits the stands, the idea often goes stale.
The process I am currently does not have the lengthy and often grueling experiences of print publishing, peddling a manuscript (even getting rejection letters) multiple edits, awkwardly reading printed gallay proofs. Instead it could best be described as combination of walking a high rope without a safety net and leaving on vacation but forgetting to have a destination.
Online publishing has always been a high wire act, before the Internet I used at leas two revisions of anything I wrote before it was published. Being typo blind, since blogging came along, I publish my work quickly and then am embarrassed later to find out how much revision it needed.
The aspect of leaving on vacation without a destination refers to dirty little secret that a lot of writers share, that when they start out writing something, an essay, article or book, they are not sure where it is going to go or how it is going to end up. While I write, I am constantly researching to enhance the output with supporting information. The last couple of weeks have been an adventure that way, as the process of discovery has shaped and reshaped the final form the book will take.
When I wrote the post Memes Book Moving Forward last November, I did so with the intention of getting the book online after I had taken it offline for over a year.
When I put the book up for viewing on the web, I announced that the first chapter had been completed. In my mind, it had been completed, but when I looked, I had left out a “last section” which I thought I would complete quickly after the book went up.
I spent the next two months, adding section after section at the end of the first chapter and it is still not done. In the process, I noticed that the book was not getting much Internet traffic. At first this was a relief but after a while it started worrying me. After all, I was writing the book so it would get read and assumed that since it was so publicly available, people would read it the way the have read everything I have written since I published my first essay when I was 16. But from looking at the blog stats, the site was getting less traffic than Highway 1 in Big Sur California, after a winter rock slide.
I started investigating the situation. I noticed that when people arrived on home page of the book, it told people that a book was here, but gave them no clue of what the book was about, other than the title and referring them to an outline full of cleaver section titles. So I decided to write a proper introduction to the book, which was give people a fairly clear idea about the nature of the material to be covered including where it would start off and where it would end up.
Since the book is called Memes for the Creation of a New Culture, I started the introduction by talking a bit about memes. I wrote:
A meme is a theoretical notion, postulating the existence of core creative ideas or cultural knowledge, having a propensity for transmission between between people using words, gestures and other imitable behaviors. A meme can be thought of as the fundamental particle of human ideas or a virus of the mind, spreading between people, infecting human culture.
A meme is that song you hear on the radio that you can’t get out of your head or that new fashion that everyone starts wearing or an an old saying, such as “a penny saved is a penny earned” that gets passed from generation to generation intact. Those are just a few examples of many memes that fill our heads.
While talking to my sister on the phone, I read here these two paragraphs. She told me that the language was a bit dense. Not a really good way to start out.
I looked at these mimetic passages again and cut and pasted then into a new section below the beginning and decided to tell a story in order to introduce memes and how they might lead to a new culture. So I started by telling the often told story of the Hundredth Monkey. On researching the story, I found out that the story had been properly debunked by skeptics. In explaing to my readers how this story had been debunked, the process lead me to remember how I first heard the story and this opened a Padora’s box of additional memories and discoveries, each which both complicated and enriched to story.
In fact the story had become so interesting and involving that I had to take a break from writing it. So I decided to post about this process on Vision Thing, to explain a bit where the book that started here was going, and invite you again to take a look.