How I Organized The Writing of The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Part 5)
[Other posts in this series can be found here.]
My completed first draft of TBWD consisted of a single MSWord document, broken up into chapters and sections based on the various topics covered. Material consisting of my notes and author quotes were contained in relevant sections.
It was now time to start over again from the beginning by rewriting the material I had collected into a more cohesive story. This was like putting a big puzzle together. I had the pieces, but had to decide how they fit together, and whether or not some pieces were unnecessary or in the wrong place.
Moving from the research that constituted the first draft to the first rewrite was really a matter of putting one’s head down and doing the hard work of integrating the vast quantity of material I had already determined was pertinent to my writing objectives.
I was no longer dealing with the content of dozens of books, articles, transcripts, etc. I was now dealing with the specific material I had already determined was pertinent to the Walt Disney business story. The challenge in this phase was to take the material I had already collected and slowly arrange all of it into a coherently written narrative and an appropriate chronological order.
When I knew something didn’t fit, I would cut and paste it to a new location closer to where it was more likely to fit chronologically, and to deal with it when I reached that later section. Often I would include a note of where I had it originally in case I decided to move it back. With regards to the quotes I had collected from other authors that I wanted to use to help tell the story, I had to decide how best to use them as authorities in the narrative. Sometimes I would use a quote and at other times I would abandon the quote itself and use the information it contained.
At this early point in the rewrite stage, I was reluctant to cut out too much. The job here really wasn’t to edit. Rather it was to arrange and write. This was really the first stage where critical analysis was applied to the notes already taken. Where I thought there were holes in the narrative, or something didn’t make sense in the context of my expanded knowledge, or two sources contradicted each other, I would take note and put aside my writing to review source material to fill a gap or resolve a contradiction based on the most reliable information I could get my hands on. Filling narrative gaps or investigating conflicting stories could take hours, days, or weeks. But it was necessary because it was part of the writing process.
It was in this way that I slowly progressed through hundreds of pages of notes and narrative, working to determine what was in and what was out, and how to convey each event that I thought was necessary or interesting enough to include to convey something of importance in understanding the growth and development of Walt Disney’s business story and life adventure. As a point of interest in what I was dealing with, my incomplete working manuscript file for the biographical part of the book, dated May 16, 2015, was 286 pages.
It was also important in writing the biography that there was, within the details of the narrative, enough information, examples, and context so that when the reader reached the second part of the book covering the nine business principles, these principles would not appear to be new and come out of left field, but instead seem rather obvious based on what had come before.
An interesting observation I had in doing my research is that while the basic sketch and trajectory of Walt’s career is well documented in many books and articles, the accuracy of the details presented are very often wrong, and much of what you read on the Internet is a semblance of the truth, like the tail end of a long game of broken telephone.
Of course, to people writing quick books to be published on the Internet or a blog essay, insisting on accurate details is seen as a form of nitpicking by experts. I made it my job to be a nitpicking expert and to get as many details right as I possibly could, given my limited resources. I never included information that I knew was wrong on the presumption that no body would notice. Where I concluded something was ambiguous, I indicated as much in a footnote.
You would think that facts relayed by people who participated in and were eyewitnesses to events would be the most trust-worthy, but unless they went back to confirm dates, often their recollection of a chronology of events were mistaken. So as I rewrote, I would continually come across material that I had at first assumed to be factually correct. Because I was writing a historical biography, it was important to me to have “accurate facts,” so when I came across contradictions, I had to investigate and at times pick the version that made the most logical sense.
Sometimes I would spend weeks trying to satisfactorily resolve some obscure issue. In the overall scheme of things, these little facts didn’t matter, and a general reader would never notice or care. But they mattered to me. I was trying to write the most comprehensive business biography of Walt Disney ever published and it had to be accurate to be credible and to stand a chance of surviving against the growing volume of high quality Disney biographies and the scrutiny of reputable Disney experts.
© 2019, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved.
Barry Linetsky is the author of the acclaimed book The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press), and an Honorary Disney History InstituteHistorian. Barry is a writer, photographer, researcher, and business strategy enabler.