Working With Limitations Or How (Not) To Write A Book Part II

Hello everyone!

As I write this, I am still in editing / revising mode and doing the final clean up on the latest  GuitArchitect’s Guide To: book involving 12-tone patterns.  For those of you engaging in large-scale projects, I thought I’d offer a few observations about various parts of the process and, perhaps, give you some ideas that you can apply to your things in your daily life as well.

On “Easy” Projects

As I’ve been writing each of these books (and supplementing that with posts here and Guitar-Muse articles, interviews and reviews), I knew that my writing style was evolving and that my pedagogical model was changing.  While I was happy with the content I was releasing for my other books, there was one past effort that was tormenting me; Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns For Improvisation.

Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns was my first published book in 2006. (There’s a short book of prose called Hostile Terrain and a 300-page book entitled The Guitar Pattern Reference Book Vol. 1, that will never see the light of day – making the “new” book the 9th or 10th I’ve worked on depending on how you’re counting it.)

Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns had its roots in the process I explored in The Guitar Pattern Book.  I started working on it when I realized there was a way to systematically re-order a 12-tone row and get some pattern-based sounds that were “out”.  I was looking for a dissonant angle to add to my playing but what I ultimately got was substantially deeper.

The Guitar Pattern Book

The Guitar Pattern Book was a reference text I devised that would (ultimately) show every possible permutation of 1, 2 and 3-note per string patterns on the guitar. Since I didn’t have access to any kind of graphic design program  at the time I was writing it,  I created a template made several hundred free copies and began charting them all out.  With a marker.  In off hours.  In down time.  Anytime I had a moment, I was sitting with a marker and a paper and plotting these out with excruciating detail.

Printing them at Kinkos, the cost was about $30 a book.  This was pre-print on demand and I knew that I’d never sell the book at $60.  So I mailed out a few copies to see if anyone was interested in the idea (I never got a single reply back) and shelved the idea.

As a commercial venture, this project that I sank hundreds (if not thousands) of hours into was a dismal failure.  As an experience however, it proved to be invaluable to me.

  • It taught me the value of discipline.  Real discipline.  At the time, I was working in a dismal office job and in a relationship that was self-destructing.  I remember waking up every day dreading going to work, and then being at work and dreading coming home.  That went on for the better part of a year before I finally figured out how to get out of that situation but the intellectual rigor that went into systematically plotting out the details in this book, was a key factor in me getting through that situation as it gave me something else to focus on.
  • Most Importantly, it taught me that it could be done.  It taught me that even with no money, or resources that I could write a book.  It taught me that you can bring something into the world on your own with sheer determination.  Because, particularly at the early stages of anything,  you can not count on anyone to help you.  Once you get established, it’s much easier to get people aligned with you, but initially people are not going to want to spend time or money) on an unknown quantity.

Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns

With the previous experience of the Guitar Pattern book behind me, I didn’t flinch several years later at the work that would be required when I had the realization that you could create symmetrical rows.  I’ve already talked about the actual break down of the divisions in this post,  but let me give you a scope of the work that went into the creation of the tables in the book.  Let’s say that we’re talking about 2 sets of 6-note patterns.  The process of documenting them went something like this.

C (m2) B(m2) Bb(m2) A(m2) Ab(m2) G  /

Gb (m2) F (m2) E (m2) Eb(m2) D(m2) Db

or m2-m2-m2-m2-m2-m2

Then I would check (by “check” – I mean write out the interval pattern until it was either complete or discarded because there was a duplicate note)










Before moving onto:


And starting it all over again ad nauseum.  Not all of the patterns worked.  This was done for all 2, 3, 4 and 6-note divisions.  If I were doing it now, I’d hire a computer science student to generate the lists in a couple of days.  At the time, I just knew I’d have to knuckle down and do it.

For a year.

Every waking hour that I wasn’t working, working out, playing or teaching guitar, I was sitting with a paper and a pen.  Endlessly running intervals to create the lists.

I should mention that I wasn’t doing this to write a book.  That thought existed as maybe a possibility.  I thought at best I might be able to publish an article on it somewhere.

Getting Creamed by Creamer

It’s funny now that I have that thought about publishing an article, because at about the 3/4’s mark of this research, I was sitting in the library taking a break from writing and reading back issues of Guitar Player Magazine and what do I see?

A full six page article by Dave Creamer on symmetrical 12-tone patterns.

I wanted to vomit because all I could see was all the work I did going down the tubes.  Dave’s article was brilliant.  It was short, and succinct and (more importantly) showed how to use the ideas in a musical way.

At the same time, as a guitarist in Boston I was at a crossroads.  I was playing in some really good bands, but they just weren’t getting traction of any kind.  I kept getting involved in projects that were taking a lot of time for rehearsals but weren’t recording or gigging consistently.  It was 2005.  I saw the writing on the wall and realized that the live scene was going to go down the tubes before it had any kind of resurgence.  So I decided to go to Grad school and get a degree to teach guitar and follow a different plan for gigging.

Both of these factors together made me decide to take all this work I had done and put it into a book.  I decided that I couldn’t be intimidated by the fact that Dave Creamer had already done something brilliant with the same idea, I decided that I’d just have to move forward anyways.  And In applying to Grad school I knew that no one else was going to be able to send in a 200+ page book as a part of an ADMISSIONS package to a school.  So I went all in and filled in the pattern based material with some explanation and took it to Lulu.

2 months later – I was a published author.

There was one problem.

For some reason, the fonts didn’t embed correctly in the text.  This meant that every sharp and flat was reversed.  Lulu tech support had no idea why it was happening.  So I had to send ANOTHER Kinkos bound copy in to supplement the book of errors I had already sent in with an extensive apology.

I still got into grad school.  And, as a bonus, I had a book out in the world.  I was now a self-published author.

This book experience taught me a lot as well.

1.  It taught me the value of proofing!  Had I caught the initial mistakes in the printing, I would have saved myself the agony of having to create a revised version and getting it out the door.

2.  It taught me to stick with ideas if they’re good.  I could have abandoned the book when I found out about Dave’s work but instead I just went forward.

3.  It reminded me to work with what I had.  I didn’t have a graphic design program, but I had word – so I did the layout in Word.  I took the other guitar books that I had and carefully studied the overall layout and applied those ideas to the design.  This experience was invaluable to me later as I learned to really get whatever I could out of whatever software I was using.

The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns

With the release of my Guide To Chord Scales book, I knew that I was at least a year out from having another book done and an idea hit me.  In the years that had passed since the  Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns book, I was less enamored with the book.  I had written the book as a general guide to 12-tone patterns and hadn’t made it guitar specific.  I decided that the easiest thing would be to retire the current 12-tone book and make some revisions to it (add a new introduction, update some of the material and add some guitar tabs instead of standard notation) and it would be good to go.

I seriously underestimated the scope of this project.

In addition to the layout revisions and headaches caused by some of the initial design decisions that I had made with the book, in reviewing the material I realized that my entire relationship with the material had changed over time.

So where I thought this would be putting in an extra 20-30 hours to have a “new” and improved book up, what happened instead was a complete re-imagining of the material in content, scope and execution taking hundreds of hours of investment.

Having said that I’m rapidly nearing the February finish line and I’m going back to the excitement level of the 5-year old Scott Collins who woke up at 3 in the morning on Christmas say and spent 3 hours trying to wake his parents up because it was technically Christmas and Santa was already here so why were they sleeping?

What I learned from this book:

1.  It’s easy for projects get away from you.  If I knew in advance how much time this book would have taken, I would have approached it very differently.  Having said that, the book is only coming together as it is because of the particular process that it went through.

So when a project gets away from you, you have to keep your eye on the prize and make sure that the work you’re doing is ultimately going to serve the project.

2.  The value of DIY.  Most authors sign with publishers because they want someone else to do everything.  Let someone else do the editing, the layout, the marketing, the promotion and collect the revenue.  Then they wonder why their cut it so small.

As an author (or an independent guitarist) – you’re not going to be able to throw money at every problem the way large publishers can.  You’ll have to fix things on your own.

For this book, this was a godsend because it was only in working over the material endlessly that I discovered the best way to convey everything that I wanted to.  That never would have happened by just sending my text to someone on elance and having them give it a once over for grammar.

3.  I learned to leverage resources.  In the previous releases, I was so fixated on being goal oriented and getting the books out the door that I neglected things like covers (though the Repo Man era generic covers were a direct contrast to the depth of the material in the books themselves.  So this book has an actual cover:

12 Tone Cover small

and I also have to mention Doug Kearns – who’s done proofing of the text that has helped immeasurably. (One bummer about my current process, due to the number of accidentals in the material – automated spell checking doesn’t work. It’s another time-consuming area that wasn’t immediately obvious).  Doug was kind enough to do this with other books and I owe him a Skype lesson in addition to the books sent his way.  John Harper gave feedback and revisions that Proved invaluable as have Andre Lafosse and Candace Burnham.

Without the input of all those people, the book would be a fraction of what it is.  So leverage the support of the people around you.

4.  Every success is built off of previous work (successes and failures). The Guitar Pattern Book was really the thing that started everything and if I stopped there I would have just been a filed author.  I never would have written this book without the books that came before.  Even if this book never sells a single copy, it’s a huge artistic success for me.

Now I need to find a better way to market it than, “The book that answers the question that no one was asking.”

I’ll have a full book out for the Kindle about this year (Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse – no I didn’t forget about it, I’ve just been busy).  But in the meantime consider this.

Every step taken to get to this book was something that (despite however much of a setback it was at the time) was ultimately a component in moving forward.

Regardless of whatever is happening in your life, be present in what’s going on but use what you are doing as a spring-board to get to the next step – even if you’re unsure of what that step is.

As always, thanks for reading!


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