The awful truth about connecting with strangers online is that it’s hard. Plume Books author Amy Webb wrote a hilariously honest book about just what a huge task it was to try to find a husband online: The memoir is called DATA: A Love Story, and it combines two things Book Country is highly engaged in: understanding what drives people to connect online, and of course, great writing!
Brandi and I both loved the book and wanted to hear more from Amy, who’s not just a top-notch nonfiction writer but also a brilliant digital media strategist (and a now-happily married wife and mom).
Lucy Silag: Did you start writing DATA: A Love Story by drafting, or did you come up with a nonfiction book proposal? How did you organize yourself in terms of writing chapters, meeting publisher deadlines, and revising?
Amy Webb: I was very fortunate to have worked with Sam Freedman when I was a student in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Sam teaches a class that he hand-picks. It involves an audition, an interview and a lot of writing — that’s before the semester begins. The purpose of the class is to work on longform narrative nonfiction, and part of that process involves learning how to write a compelling book proposal. So in terms of my process, I followed what I learned in his class. I started out as a journalist, and while reporting and writing is something that I still enjoy doing, developing a book wasn’t necessarily in my 2012 client calendar. I had to essentially treat the book as a project and schedule out the time for it.
I’ve always worked from extremely detailed outlines. I started with a map of the basic elements of the book, then filled that in and had a final outline that was more than 200 pages long. I’ve found that for me, if I do the right kind of thinking in advance, putting together the story in writing is a lot easier. I kept an elaborate spreadsheet in Google docs, and I shared my work schedule with my editor, the marketing team at Penguin and my husband. So once I knew what my deadline was, I plugged the work into the spreadsheet. I wanted my editor to read and comment on the detailed outline before I sat down to write the book — it would be better to make any structural changes earlier in the process, rather than after handing in a finished 400-page draft. Many of the revisions therefore happened during the detailed outline.
I’m not one of those people who can sit down and wait for the words to come. I’m also not satisfied with getting one great page done a day. I work best with deadlines and structure, even if both are totally self-imposed.
LS: In your memoir you were candid about taboos like cigarette smoking, which a lot of readers might not relate to. Were you ever tempted to avoid details that might turn people off? Continue reading