Richard Feynman said (in The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist) that living in the state of not knowing is easy; what he really wanted to know was how to know!
I have had my share of living with not knowing over the past few months, particularly in the area of writing the book. Most obviously, I don’t have any previous knowing about writing books. Reading them, yes, and writing other things, but not writing a book. But that turned out to be the easy part. I knew what I wanted to say, and I knew when it was done. I had periods of wanting to quit and do something else, but I kept getting brought up short by Charlotte Mason’s quotes about Will.
I wrote the original draft in Word, in block-style paragraphs like this, as I’ve always done, with no attempt at formatting other than laboriously dragging the little markers on the toolbar around to indent quotations. I knew enough to know that a Word document would have to be converted somehow into an e-text version, and my husband obligingly downloaded the Sigil program and told me to have at it. I managed to produce a readable e-version to send to a couple of friends. “Now you’re done, right?” he asked. But some things still didn’t seem right; and when I ran it past the big green check mark at the top, the program revealed all kinds of errors in the Html code that I didn’t know how to fix. Besides, how was this going to work for a print version of the book?
I talked to my brother-in-law, who has more experience in publishing. He said, “I hate to tell you this, but I think you will have to put it back into Word.”
After I finished banging my head on the computer desk, I did two things. I borrowed April L. Hamilton’s book The Indie Author Guide from the public library, which takes you through the process of setting up a book on Word, step by step, button by button. Hamilton also explained a part of Word that I had never understood: how to use Styles and Formatting. If you set up the parameters, and then decide that you want the paragraphs indented a little more, you tell Word that and they all change at once. Kind of like an advanced Search and Replace; and no more dragging the little markers on the ruler.
The second thing I did was download a six-by-nine-inch template from CreateSpace, which saved me some of the setup work. The template gave me a dummy copy to paste into, and Hamilton gave me the answers when I got stuck and the headers were showing the wrong chapter titles. And look at that: I had a Word file that actually looked like a book. The best part is that, when I moved that file back into Sigil, the new ePub version worked better and had less messy code than than the earlier attempts. I also ignored the big green checkmark.
So now I know some things that I didn’t know a few months ago, about what it takes to get a book written, about the magic of word processing, about Html, about online publishing. It still seems like about every other day there’s another thing I have to learn very quickly to keep the process moving. Recent lessons were all about websites and WordPress. How do you upload a printable? How do you get the menu of pages in the right order? Where do you get a contact form? My husband, my graphics-keen daughter, and online friends have been good backups, but I had to work through some of the knots of it myself.
Did I come out knowing more? Not so much as recognizing that yes, the not knowing is the easy, default setting; I often feel quite swamped by the amount of unknowing in my life. But since the not knowing is what we already have, there’s no particular merit in living with that recognition. As Feynman said, the bigger question is about knowing.
Sometimes there are how-to books to give us answers. Sometimes there are templates to copy, or friends who know. Sometimes we’re on our own. The real challenge is being open to knowledge, and finding out if there is something we can learn, even incompletely. And ignoring the big green checkmarks.