Writing a Book

Marty Barrack

Marty Barrack

After all this preparation, we are ready to write a book that will be of real use to our Catholic brethren and have a real chance of finding a publisher.


Writing a book takes a long time. We work hard to make each paragraph as clear and concise as possible.

Clear is extremely important. If the author does not express his idea with great vigor and clarity the reader will soon tire of the book and put it down. The classic example is Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. His book was clear to other physicists, but opaque to the lay reader. Many people bought it because of Hawking’s name, but I would guess fewer than one percent of the buyers actually learned something from it. I bought a copy and plowed through less than half the book before giving up in confusion.

Concise is also extremely important. Most readers today live very busy lives. They will make time for something they want to learn, but only if they are getting a high rate of insights per minute. Second Exodus is 388 pages long but the writing is concise; the reader is welcome to pick any paragraph and try to express its full content in fewer words.

We cannot write a book in our spare time. We have to carve out a block of time and commit to it. During that time we work behind a closed door. Our family and friends can interrupt us only for necessity.

Some people have friendly-as-a-puppy neighbors who will knock on our door and invite themselves in for casual conversation while we are working. We explain to our neighbor, in the most friendly and charitable way, that we have work to do and cannot be disturbed during certain hours. Some neighbors will continue to come during our work hours "just for a minute." We explain, pleasantly but firmly, that good friends respect one another’s needs and that having this block of time to ourselves is part of our needs. A neighbor who continues even after that explanation is not our friend at all but rather is merely using us to break up his own boredom.


Writing takes a surprising amount of physical energy. We can write words when we’re tired and drained, but when we look at the words later we will probably throw most of them out. They may be technically correct but lack zest and verve and relish.

We write when we’re tired mainly when we get a midnight inspiration. If an insight hits us in the wee hours of the morning we write down just enough to let us recall the main idea. Sometimes that works well, other times not so well. The poet Ogden Nash once woke up with a start, believing that he’d had a brilliant flash of insight. He quickly wrote it down on a note pad and went back to sleep. In the morning he went to the note pad and read,

Hogamus higamus men are polygamous
Higamus hogamus women monogamous

Oh well.


Creating and polishing are two completely different mental processes. During creation, we mainly want to get our insights into the computer before we get distracted or forget them. During polishing we rewrite to be sure our writing is clear, concise, and precise. We make sure our work is carefully organized within each chapter or section so that the reader will be able to follow our logical sequence. When we’re finished, it’s time to find a publisher.


We put a copyright notice on each page of our manuscript, such as "Copyright © 2010 Martin K. Barrack. All rights reserved." The copyright notice includes the year and the name of the copyright owner. Adding "all rights reserved" adds some legal strength to the notice. We do not register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. The book publisher does that.

Some writers want to register their work in their own name because they imagine that an unscrupulous publisher might steal their work. Copyright theft is rare even in the commercial publishing industry and virtually nonexistent in the Catholic publishing industry. The reason is simple. Every commercial publisher depends on working with professional writers who reliably crank out a high quality manuscript every year. If word gets around that a particular publisher has stolen a writer’s manuscript his cadre of professional writers will no longer be willing to trust him with what amounts to a year’s worth of their income. That publisher will then have to depend for his own livelihood on the amateur writers who show up in great numbers but whose work is often poor and unpredictable. Catholic publishers have a comparable need for steady and reliable writers, but in addition know that Jesus will not let them out of purgatory until they have paid the last penny. Mt 5:26