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Books for a living

Writers can struggle to make a living but when things come together it’s wonderful. In the past few weeks I’m proud to have been associated with the launch of two new books:

  • The autobiography of Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai
  • A major work on on African philosophy and business, Attuned Leadership, by Dr Reuel Khoza

I substantially edited the former book, checking and overwriting many passages, and did major research and chapter crafting, including the full wordsmithing, of the latter. Both are big books – over 500 pages each. The Tsvangirai book took three months of work, 6 hours a day, and the other book was a labour of love over two years. When they both came out from Penguin just a few days apart it was like enjoying getting my matric results all over again.

People often ask me what it’s like to write, rewrite, or ghost write books. I’ve written my own books (on the world’s rivers, my passion) and will do more. But the bread and butter resides in taking on commissions. Basically it’s like brickwork: one brick at a time, lots of thought for mortar, and time to reflect on whether the wall is straight, looks good, and adds something worthwhile to the landscape. You don’t produce a book in a day or a week, so the deadlines are much further apart. But believe me, the deadlines are real and ask they loom the pressure mounts.

You have to go one step at a time, always looking back over your shoulder and always trying to remain aware of what lies ahead. It’s very much a case of lateral thinking, the words come to you, they sidle up whispering good ideas, and you have to seize them or lose them. This is not so much about inspiration as it is about method. You have to feel confident in your own words, but beyond that it’s all craft and elbow-grease. Keeping notes. Drawing mind-maps. Tracing what has been written before with fast, efficient web searches. Coming up with new ways of saying things. Backtracking to rewrite what doesn’t fit the pattern. It may sound like a grind but it’s always fascinating.

Here’s to many more book commissions! – Graeme

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