Saturday, February 28, 2015

RICHARD PRYOR: AMERICAN ID (Day 1)


Yesterday afternoon, I filed my monthly indie movie guide for Flavorwire, took care of some writerly housekeeping, sent some emails, and then turned on my vacation status. Including weekends, I’m off for nine days, and at the conclusion of that nine days, I will hopefully have a first draft of my next book, Richard Pryor: American Id. And I’ve decided to track my progress on it, here on Tumblr, for anyone who’s interested in how I wrote a book in about a week. (I’m doing so fully aware of the fact that I’m setting myself up for the eventual criticism that it reads like it was written in about a week.)

Now, there are a few things you should know about how this is possible.
  • The book is very short. My publisher, The Critical Press, specializes in “short and medium-length books: topics and arguments that can’t comfortably fit in a long article, but don’t necessarily need 300 pages to make their point.” So while my last two books were in the 50,000-60,000 word range, this goal on this one is 20,000 words. (That’s the goal. The problem is that I did just as much research as I did for the other two, which means I’ll probably end up trying to get something like five pounds of sugar into a two-pound bag, but we’ll deal with that later in the week.)

  • I write fast. This is just a thing, so there we are. The book is made up of eight essays (here’s a description of exactly what we’re talking about), which means those 20,000 words equal 2,500 words per essay. I’m writing one essay a day, roughly; on an average work day, I write about 2,000 words, so this isn’t really a stretch. (The difference is the amount of self-editing I’m afforded, as well as the opportunity to come back to it several times over a period of many weeks.) 

  • Some of it is already done. Back in 2011, when I originally got this idea, I wrote a preface and a sample chapter to show to publishers. And then I got sidetracked writing other books and doing other stuff, and then I had a fake-out when I thought someone else was basically writing the same book, so I ended up sitting on them for a while and then running them on Flavorwire. So those two, while in need of sharpening, are basically done, leaving six essays to be written from the ground up.

And to that end, these first two days of work are what we’d call a “soft opening,” if I were in the hospitality business (or, let’s face it, in Ocean’s 13). To ease in, I’m starting out with a day each spent punching up those two previously published pieces. So today I started with this one, which is the preface to the book, coming into his story via a notorious bootleg video of an unaired interview. I hadn’t looked at in a while, so it was good to approach it with something resembling fresh eyes, as well as a few new quotes and nuggets I’ve picked up doing research.

In addition to that, I wrote what I’m calling the “Warning” (since I’ve got a preface, it seemed silly to also have an Introduction), which basically lays out that the book is not a Pryor biography, and then explains exactly what it is. I think it’s good and not too precious, and I think it’s probably necessary. Oh, and I figured out the two epigrams that will go on the first page, which I’m tempted to share here since they’re so fucking perfect, but I’m gonna show a bit of self-control, for once.

So that’s that. Tomorrow’s another revision day, and then on Monday, the real work begins.


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