Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thumb on the Cork

The cigar box is open and my thumb is on the champagne cork. After a Fall spent writing my 8th book, ALL BLUES: Jazz for the Orff Ensemble, it is just one corrected comma away from being sent off to the printer. It will still be another four weeks or so before I hold that baby in my hands, but still, the relief of the end of pregnancy is worthy of some heel-clicking jumps in the air. And with the weight of “when will it be done?” off my shoulders, I suddenly feel light enough to do it!

I think writing a book is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing anything akin to real pregnancy. There’s the pleasure of conception, the slight morning sickness as one struggles with embryonic ideas, the excitement of new life forming on the page, the delight of feeling the first kicks, the dreaming and anticipation of finally meeting the face that you can’t yet see in its finished form. There are sonogram moments—“Oh, there’s the toes!” and panic moments—“Is everything developing normally?”

And then there’s the labor pains. I know any mother reading this might throw things at me and sneer, “You have NO idea!” and they’re right. But there is an intensity to the end of the project that has something in common with labor. Writing, after all, is labor and though the final labor pains are all psychological, they're nonetheless real. For some reason, the last part of the process has been particularly grueling, as if the due date was suddenly shifted and the doctor casually announces, “Oh, by the way, this pregnancy will be ten or eleven months.”

Here is where writing a book is so different from just about anything else we do. Conceiving the project, organizing the order, writing something with a dose of inspiration and a heaping portion of practical use for the teachers buying it is labor enough, but unlike the twitter, the text message, the Facebook posting, the e-mail, the blog, you’re aiming higher, reaching for a kind of immortality—for at least as long as the first printing. That means you’re accountable for every crossed t, dotted i, comma, hyphen, spelling, grammar and page number. Not to mention the fact that this book contains 35 musical examples—and so the same kind of accountability for every sharped G and flatted B, repeat signs, the right number of beats and so on.

Of course, I have an editor (thank you, Peter) and a copy editor (thank you, Corrine), but it is an astounding example of how the mind works to have two or three people comb through a manuscipt and STILL end up finding typos. I swear that elves come in the night and re-arrange things. But really what’s happening is the neurological truth that the mind can only attend one thing at a time. So a tip for future writers—go through a manuscript several times, each time focusing on something different—spelling, punctuation, etc. Another neurological truth is that the brain often is approximating information based on familiarity with previous information. That's why most people don’t catch the error in “Paris in the
the Spring” or are able to “rd wt s wrtn hre” because of that faculty. That ability to get the gist works in our favor as learners, but against us as copy editors.

Though I have a great team that deals with layout, music scores, cover design (thanks, Bill and Lisa!), the difficulty of the project is compounded by the fact that I’m self-publishing through my own company, Pentatonic Press. This means that I had to get permission to arrange some 22 jazz tunes from some seven different publishers who hold the copyright and then a different permission for the accompanying recording. Which was its own project (thanks, John!) requiring hours in the studio. Additionally, I have to get the ISBN numbers and arrange with the printers and the storage facilities and on and on. At times I feel like a single father!
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Then after the birth comes the terrible revelation—you gotta raise the kid! Send out the announcements, register with your distributor, get it up on Amazon, ship it to the Orff dealers, include it in the family of other books you take to workshops—and teach the material in your workshops for at least a couple of years until it can be on its own.

I hope this doesn’t sound like whining. I’m thrilled to have the independence of my own press, delighted that all the books seem to be doing well enough and that they’re proving to be useful to teachers, grateful for the dealers who help distribute them. But in a lifetime of reading, it took writing my first book to appreciate what authors go through to give us the pleasure and stimulation they do. I think everyone should be required to write a book once in their lifetime. The patience, perseverance and perspective it demands is really something extraordinary, quite different from cooking a meal, giving a concert, finishing a painting.

At any rate, it’s almost done. Though even while writing this, I remembered someone I forgot to thank and had to make yet one more last minute change. I get one more chance to look at a prototype before the whole 2,000 copies are printed and if the elves are busy, I’m sure I’ll find something else. But for now, my thumb is on the champagne cork and I’m ready for a well-deserved—“Pop!”

At least right after I copy-edit this blog. 

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