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The Plan6 min read

The problem

My book requires an enormous amount of research to write.

My perspective as an outsider in the scientific community allows me to approach climate change from a different and much-needed perspective. That perspective, I’m hoping, can shift the climate change paradigm and allow for empowerment and efficacy throughout the scientific community—as well as in every home, town, board meeting and filibuster going forward.

These are big claims, but I know enough to know that I’m right. My perspective is sound and re-imagines the dialogue.

I am not, however, an expert in climate change science. Yet. I have been studying for years, reading everything I can find on the subject, and working hands-on in the biofuels community. But to become an expert requires an enormous depth of knowledge that I do not yet possess. An expert has read all the schools of thought and has a response to each. An expert knows the theories behind every conclusion and every discovery intimately. An expert is able to step into the conversation as an equal and peer. To become an expert will take me years of serious study.

A popular science book does not necessarily require me to be an expert—plenty of popular science writers merely skim the surface—but if I’m trying to shift the paradigm, I’d better damn well know what I’m talking about. I need not just to explain climate change, but to explain it in a new light.

So, Problem One is the time it takes to become an expert.

In addition, to make the book worth reading it needs to tell stories. Textbooks reveal information, and become mind-numbingly boring. Literature that captivates and inspires also reveals the human condition.

I will tell the story of climate change through the people involved in its history. Many aspects of modern chemistry and industry are involved in the tale, and each aspect shows the prints of the human hands that shaped it.

But history is vague, and becomes ever more obscure as I travel back in time. I would like my story to begin with Antoine Lavoisier—often called the father of modern chemistry.

In scientific circles he is as famous as it gets. He named carbon and oxygen and many of the elements we now know; he changed the nomenclature and method of science itself; he uncovered the basis of respiration, fire, and the carbon cycle. Also, he used giant magnifying glasses to burn diamonds, and was decapitated in the French Revolution. He’s great. And well-documented.

You would think it would be a simple thing to uncover his history and write him into my story. It’s not.

History is not a simple story: accounts differ dramatically, even among the experts. They claim Lavoisier was a red head, a brunette, jovial, reserved, straightforward and duplicitous. The discrepancies do not stop with character traits. Even the “facts” are very much in dispute. Many scholars report that Lavoisier performed his famous diamond burning experiment in public, along the Sein in Paris, and that it caused quite an uproar. I have read in his own words that he held the experiment in a secluded garden to avoid crowds and distractions.

All of this means that in order to honestly represent a character—even one as exhaustively studied and revered as Lavoisier—requires the study of multiple texts, often available only in their original languages.

The past is very much in the eye of the beholder. So, each character requires many sources. Each discovery, and its repercussions, requires many more.

Problem Two is that each character requires extensive research.

I am not a fast writer. Culture in the US leans ever more toward immediate results and immediate attention. I need several drafts to produce anything I find satisfying.

In order to write my book I need time, lots of it. To survive, I need money to support my family and myself. These needs appear mutually exclusive.

Working to make money takes away the time that I need to write, and vice-versa. If I continued trying to work—even in the most minimal capacity—and write and study on the side, I estimate that it would take me ten years to finish a first draft. There is simply too much to read and write. And, during all that time I would live at no more than a subsistence level. Forget about kids. Forget about becoming financially stable.

Here’s the plan

  • Step One: Quit my job for a few months. This is only possible by letting go of the house I own and living on minimal savings.
  • Step Two: Build an audience. There is no reason that the research and commentary I write cannot be published online. This is especially true if I’m very clear and honest about my process. Each piece of the story of climate change is interesting in itself, as are the characters that lived the discoveries. I’m guessing that my struggles to write this book can provide a useful backdrop to discovery. If the work is good, hopefully I can get people to pay attention.
  • Step Three: Use the ongoing research and commentary to craft the chapters of the book. Even the first drafts can be published online. They provide the capstones of the process: from research to conclusions to the beginning of a finished product. The work takes shape through the steps that create it.
  • Step Four: Get noticed. If my reach extends far enough, I can catch the eye of a publisher. My audience adds extra incentive for a deal: they demonstrate proof of concept. My work is already underway. A finished product rewards my audience for their faith.
  • A half-step along this path might be building advertising into the website. I find the thought of it galling, but in the end, I can’t write if I can’t survive. It also adds further proof of concept for a publisher: I appear in all ways to be a marketable professional.

These steps seem like a natural progression from writing to publishing. The proof, of course, is in the audience. If no one pays any attention, the process stops cold. So, social media becomes a key component. As much as possible, I need to become a part of the debate. If someone cares about my tweets, she might take the time to follow them to my website, and on to my book.

Currently, I’m looking at four or five months to get this process started, before I will have to get a job and curtail the effort. Can this process happen in four or five months? Sure.

Will it?

Only if I stay completely focused. Only if I’m blessed with an audience. Only if I’m very, very lucky. But at least I have a plan.

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