Progress Report #73

This is written for those interested in the minutia of my creative progress for Street Song. Warning: It may be dry reading for most.

My original concept for the book was derived from a single image I had of myself walking alone down Grant Avenue, the main drag of the quaint old bohemian neighborhood here in San Francisco, North Beach. I assumed the book was the story of my 15 years or so on the street here. I wasn’t always on the street itself, but during that entire time I had no fixed address or even any ID. I slept in bushes, on rooftops, in store rooms, and so on. I started the project by doing a lot of research and then wrote a quick and dirty first draft.

After the first draft was finished, I continued doing research and started work on a second draft, which I knew was going to be a huge expansion of the first. I want the final version to be around 350 pages, and to get there I’ve been working from an idea I found in the Tao Te Ching.

If we wish to compress something, we must first let it fully expand.

After telling the tale of just my first year and a half on the street, I was already up to 900 pages. A large chunk of those pages deal with the ideas and events that led me to the street. It was at this point I realized that the essence of the story was what I’d just worked through. The next thirteen and a half years, while worth going into, are of less importance to the story. I decided then (this was last March) to go back through those 900 pages, cull out what was most likely to end up in the final draft, and from those notes make a detailed writer’s outline. I finished this project a couple of days ago. From that work, I know what I need to say about the last thirteen and a half years, which will be highly compressed. That’s what I’m working on now—creating the outline for the end. This should only take me a few days. Once I’ve finished it, I’ll resume writing the second draft, which I see as taking me a couple more months to finish.


Once I’ve finished the second draft, I have two more steps to go. The first is to start work on a final outline, one suitable for a publisher. Once I’ve gotten far enough down the line with that, I can start work on the final draft. I write in the morning, so I’ll continue work on the outline in the evenings. That outline shouldn’t take too much time. I see myself as needing a year and a half for the final draft. I don’t want to labor over the language too, too much. I want the book to sound natural and true.

There are a lot of books that tell writers the best, most efficient way to go about writing a book. They all say pretty much the same thing. They’re fine, I suppose, if you’re a factory writer of books. My method here violates almost all their precepts. But I think every real book has its own organic process. It makes its own demands. I couldn’t have done this book in any way other than how I’ve done it. My favorite part will be the writing of the final draft. Not because I’m coming to the end, but because that’s where the fun is: the final crafting of the story.

One last note: While I do have an agent, I don’t have a contract yet. You have to be around a year and a half out from the finish before you can go after one. My book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill did well and enough people know about me through the documentary (millions have seen it) that I’m optimistic I’ll get a contract. Besides, it’s a unique story. (I’ll have more to say about that later.)


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One Response to “Progress Report #73”

  1. David Says:

    A lot of complicated creative projects including books started with a sudden flash of insight that sparked years of work to get to the final product. One of my favourite creative concepts is Robert Fritz’s idea of the “rehearsal,” often an intermediate stage that seems not to pan out. Later you realize that you learned something important from this stage that helps a lot with the final product. And it’s all about the final product.

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