On writing Spineless
When anyone asks me what I do for a living, I tell them that I'm a zoologist and writer. I used to just say zoologist. Sure, I'd written a few articles for magazines and chapters for scientific books, but they'd made up a very small part of my life. Hardly worth mentioning. So, zoologist, it was. A fine profession and one I love. But I've always wanted to add 'writer' to my CV. You know how it goes. Writing is a compulsion.
As a zoologist, I spend my time studying invertebrates — animals without backbones. That sets off a range of reactions in people from 'urk' to 'fascinating'. There might also be some nervous backing away. But it often prompts questions about the spineless creatures that share our homes and gardens. What is this? What's it doing in my house? Is it going to bite?
I thought that it would be useful to put together a book that answered those questions in a way that was readily accessible to readers who weren't zoologists. (Most of the population!) And so Spineless was on its way.
The first step was an outline -- what to include, what to leave out, the structure of each entry and how much to write for each one. (Because it was intended to be a handy kitchen-table reference, the word count had to be kept under control. Too much text = unwieldy library-shelf tome. Great for holding open a door; not so great for finding information quickly.) What criteria would readers use to identify their critters? And what about general information -- biological control, traps and lures, first aid ... ? Planning was essential.
Having decided on content, I made brief notes for each entry, fact checking as I went. Then I picked out the most important elements and wrote those up. After all that planning, the writing was straightforward. I set myself a daily target of 750 words -- which I almost never achieved, but I hear it's good to have a goal -- and just kept at it. Morning, evening, weekends. If I got stuck on one part of the book, I'd move onto another. Eventually, I had a completed manuscript held together with a bulldog clip. And then I had a book, all glossy-covered and perfect bound with my name in block letters. And now I can call myself a zoologist and writer. Or -- and this is really exciting -- a writer and zoologist. Take your pick.
I'm now working on a second natural history book, as well as a crime novel set in Far North Queensland. And, I've also got my blog, A Snail's Eye View, in case I run out of things to do.
A useful little book that will help you identify the pests (and pals) that share your home.