for Dummies: The Birth of the Beast
article originally appeared in Card
column marks a celebration of sorts for me. Today, seven months
of work is about to be shipped to the printer, and by the
time you read this column, Poker For Dummies will either
be sitting on the shelves of your neighborhood bookseller
or it will be there soon.
this column is easy for me. I just sit down, start at the
beginning, and keep typing until I'm finished - some 1,000
words later. Writing a book is another matter altogether.
Even with coauthor Richard D. Harroch shouldering half the
burden, and guest authors Mike Caro, Nolan Dalla, Kathy Watterson,
and Dan Paymar contributing chapters and vignettes, a book
is a beast, pure and simple.
a book is not only work, it requires sacrifice. I did not
get to play too much poker during the seven-month writing
period. I also missed movies, failed to go to dinner with
friends, and even passed up the lure of bright sunny days
that called me to an aimless and carefree walk along the beach
that lies less than a block from my front door. As the months
moved slowly along I began thinking of myself as the hermit-in-the-high-rise
who seldom came down to the street.
Columns are easily dashed off from the forefront of the mind;
books require one to delve into the depths of their soul.
Long forgotten thoughts are dredged up and forced forward,
then written, edited, and written and edited again until they
are at least cogent, and hopefully infused with literary merit.
Writing a Dummies book requires a specials knack that
I seemed to get the hang of about three-quarters of the way
through the process. Every one of those big, black-and-yellow
books that you see on the shelves of your local bookseller
is written in a similar style. They are light, witty, informative,
humorous, easily read, yet filled with the stuff to instruct
raw beginners. Simplifying concepts is not easy; yet the very
process of writing for beginners causes a wonderful transformation
to occur. The knowledge and sophisticated concepts one possesses
become stripped bare until only the essence of the concept
shines through - unadorned, yet pure, and possessed of a stark
simplicity that gives new and deeper meaning to long-held
ideas and truths.
books are also famous for their lavish use of "boxed" materials
- stuff journalists call "sidebars." Like a bunch of handy-dandy
cheat sheets, these sidebars pepper the book and add flavor
to the stew. But writing them is another exercise in stripping
bare ideas until the essence remains and the fat is gone.
Working and reworking these concepts was agonizing, time-consuming,
and often frustrating, but the payoff for me - in addition
to the book itself - is that I believe I am now a much better
pokier player than I was when I began this project.
all of you who would be writers and harbor a book in your
hearts, take heed: The column you are reading was dashed off
in a morning. If something said in the first paragraph needs
to relate to something said at the end, it's easy to bear
that in mind. But a book is chapters and chapters, written
over a long period of time, which must somehow be integrated
so they read as a coherent whole. The difference between book
and column is the difference between a symphony and a simple
tune. One is much more difficult than the other; and it still
mystifies me that I'm able to do this at all.
can't simply multiply the number of pages in a column by the
writing time per page and extrapolate the amount of time needed
to write a book. It doesn't work that way, and it's a lesson
I've learned with each book I've written. I always expect
the effort to be significantly less than it is, and I'm always
amazed how much effort is required.
editing process for a book is much more demanding than it
is for a column. Face it, if you've got your commas in the
right places, can keep your syntax straight and are marginally
literate, there's not much editing required to make a column
work. But a book is another story. Good editors are a blessing
for any writer, offering another pair of literate eyes to
scrutinize words and paragraphs the writer has become all
too close to. A skilled editor's hand can enhance the quality
of a book significantly. That was particularly true in my
case, since the editors were able to ensure that Poker
For Dummies was consistent with the Dummies style,
tone, and format.
not sure why I'm writing this column, since it's completely
bereft of poker content. Maybe it's an act of celebration.
Perhaps it's my way of saying, "I'm sorry" to friends ignored
during my cloistered months at the keyboard. Or it may just
be a word of warning to pretenders and a word of encouragement
to those of you who really feel there's a book within you.
that book is screaming to get out, go ahead and write it.
It will be work. More work than you will ever imagine. But
you'll grow from it, and your growth will measure the inherent
worth of your work.
For Dummies is my third book. My first book, Hold'em
Excellence: From Beginner to Winner, was difficult
but that did not surprise me. I expected it to be a lot of
work simply because I'd never written a book before.
I finished my second book, MORE
Hold'em Excellence: A Winner For Life, I was shocked
at the work it required. Having been down that path before,
I assumed that I was on top of the learning curve and would
be able to dash off a second book in no time whatsoever. I
was, I discovered, soundly mistaken.
realized Poker For Dummies would be a lot of work,
and I was ready for it. When the go-ahead letter, the contract,
and the first advance check arrived in the mail I was primed,
full of ideas and energy, and ready to go. Seven months later
I'm staggering into the light at the end of the tunnel, tired,
drained, and looking for a soft place to fall.
I do it again? In a heartbeat. But not tomorrow. Maybe in
a few months.
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