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How to write an I Ching book about 20 years too soon

Step 1 – have an I Ching website.

Step 2 – have a nice publisher contact you via said website and ask you to write a book.

Then…

Think of all the reasons why you absolutely should not do anything of the kind for another 10, 20 or 30 years. (This takes some time.) Think about them all some more. Check with the publisher in the faint hope they might want something you’d object to writing anyway, and find they do in fact want a real translation, with words from the real book. Check with Yi, and get encouragement.

Gulp.

Realise that one reason to write a book now is so you can write a better one later.

Then…

Well, I started with the text I wrote for the WikiWing, since that summed up my ideas for each line and included my ‘working translation’ (which turned out to need a whole lot of reworking). Then I gathered together everything from a vast Word doc that contains all my ever-expanding notes on each hexagram and line, that rejoices in the original name of MYNOTES.doc. (It was created before you could have long file names in Windows.) I made sure I had the line pathway – the journey through fan yao, paired line of fan yao, paired line of original line – copied into each line as well as its zhi gua.

Then I added an ‘examples’ heading under each line and started gathering up example readings. Thank goodness I’ve been keeping my personal journal in a searchable format for some years now. (Another good reason to keep a searchable journal – you never know when someone might expect you to write a book.) Then I creatively cursed the inadequacies of Windows search, and installed Google desktop to search through ten years’ worth of clients’ readings. Finally, for lines where I was short of readings (I’d decided for some reason I wanted at least half a dozen different examples for each line), I visited the I Ching Community archives.  (I would’ve been utterly lost without the hexagram search that Ewald created for us.)

I also spent some time searching for ‘threads started by’ the querents in these readings to find out how things turned out, and developed a new and profound appreciation for the people who are kind enough to post updates on the same thread!

I discovered the merits of coffee when working 12 hour days.

Reading through all the ramblings of ‘MYNOTES’ on each line and its pathways, I distilled these into a series of questions: how important is it to do this? do people feel that? why isn’t it a mistake, and why might you think it was? what does this kind of constancy look like, what kind of danger is there, how does the zhi gua show up…? – and so on. Then with my gathered example readings, I set out to find which of my ideas about the line actually fit, and which was just a nice idea in theory, and where I really needed to start over and work things out without preconceived notions. The aim, after all, was to write a commentary that would pretty reliably help people with readings – so it made sense to start by writing one that would have helped with the readings I know.

I renegotiated the deadline with the (very) nice publishers.

The next step was to distill all this down to a couple of paragraphs, agonising horribly over the choice of each word, trying to make them work with the explicit and implicit imagery of the text. Of course I want to be as specific and clear as possible, but not so specific that I exclude valid possibilities and get in the way of Yi talking to people. (Did I mention ‘gulp’?)

Somewhere along the way, I (re)discovered the difference between interpreting a reading and interpreting a line of text. It’s quite daunting.

As each hexagram was ‘finished’, in a provisional sort of way, I passed it to my husband to proof-read – which he did, and also pointed out all the unexplained assertions, logical discrepancies and unnecessary elaborations. I reminded myself repeatedly how generous he was being with his time (he really was!) and thought it all out again.

I uploaded each hexagram to the Change Circle’s private ‘jewelbox’ of downloads, where people looked at them and said kind and helpful things, and got me rewriting 29.6 in particular. Then, wonderfully, Bradford Hatcher volunteered to look through the work. He was indescribably helpful, and blessedly unintimidating for someone who’s forgotten more about this book than I’m ever likely to know. (I was already leaning heavily on his work for the ‘translation’ part, as well as LiSe, Harmen, Wilhelm, Lynn, Marshall, Rutt and God-bless-the-clickable-Wenlin for comparing word usage in Yijing and Shijing.)

Send finished work to nice publisher, who tells me it’s too long. Shorten it. Embarrassing how possible this is.

Still too long. Negotiate via nice, patient lady at publishers with design department to move the illustrations around as an alternative to cutting more words. Still need to cut some more or it won’t fit on the page – OK, getting good at this…

Finished!

Go outdoors in daylight, and try to remember what they call that big, blue ceiling thing.

Start a file called ‘corrections.doc’.

Wait for the book to be published.

And here it is. (US, UK and Canada)

Erm… let me know what you think?

14 responses to How to write an I Ching book about 20 years too soon

  1. Much of the text was familiar, so it was the form of the book that surprised me: lots of red on nearly every page. But in use it is quite helpful and the illustrations (which do add something to most hexagrams) have been well chosen.

    The first thing I did was pencil in the fan-yao numbers (I use them; but I realise they would just confuse most people). If only li zhen wasn’t always (mis?)translated as “constancy bears fruit”… 🙂

    But as you say, the real miracle is that you have managed to hit the nail on the head in surprisingly few words. A bit like the Zhouyi itself.

  2. Dear ???,

    Will you be placing an actual link in your site to purchase copies from you using Paypal or something like that? 🙂

  3. Thanks, Justin.

    Much of the text was familiar, so it was the form of the book that surprised me: lots of red on nearly every page. But in use it is quite helpful and the illustrations (which do add something to most hexagrams) have been well chosen.

    Yup, the design was not my idea. The illustrations are a mixture… I was asked to provide suggestions for each hexagram, and suggested sources for them to look in (Harmen helped me out with that), and then it was their choice. Some I really like, some not so much.

    The first thing I did was pencil in the fan-yao numbers (I use them; but I realise they would just confuse most people). If only li zhen wasn’t always (mis?)translated as “constancy bears fruit”…

    The translation that really got me interested in the Yi was the Ritsema/Karcher, and a distinguishing feature of that one is how it always uses the same words for the same characters. Hence the way I stuck to some formulaic translations for the ‘set phrases’, even when they start to feel awkward. I think (hope) that’s a fairly uncontroversial one, though.

    But as you say, the real miracle is that you have managed to hit the nail on the head in surprisingly few words. A bit like the Zhouyi itself.

    Apart from not being a work of ineffable genius 😉

    I wasn’t happy about how much they required me to cut and rewrite, but with hindsight I reckon it was a blessing.

    Will you be placing an actual link in your site to purchase copies from you using Paypal or something like that?

    Probably not, because by the time we factored in postage from the UK it’d cost more than it does from Amazon while taking much longer. Also, if I keep a stack of books in the garage the rats’ll eat them.

    I am mindful that I owe some people some books, though. The publishers have just moved to a new supplier-of-books-to-authors, and there seem to be glitches, so I haven’t been able to get further copies yet. It’s time I emailed them about it again.

  4. Congratulations, Hilary, on your new baby! My first impression: lovely to look upon & intelligently sound; you should be proud (of course not in a self-conceited kind of way, but rather a self-respecting way). All around, your version of Changes expresses itself with thoughtfulness & utility. Of course I purchased a copy for myself and then quickly snapped up another, which I gave away as a gift. We are both appreciating your distinguished efforts and are happy to provide it with a space of it’s very own on our respective bookshelves. Many, many kudos.. 🙂

  5. I saw your book in the bookstore today. Naturally I immediately started browsing through it and checking out the translations and comments. I had an interesting experience of being at home with/in the book. I like the lack of endless explanations – the text is tight and concise, yet the image is very clear and easy to understand. I don’t really need yet one more Yijing book, but I came home with one, which I felt will give me more than some other Yijing books in my library.

  6. Hi Hilary
    I have had your book now since Christmas Day. I have been finding it very useful and practical. The writing is clear and lucid. I feel that the descriptions of the hexagrams and lines have deepened my understanding of their meanings, and asking the key questions that you suggest, has often been quite illuminating. It has been great getting new insights into my past readings, some of which I had not fully understood at the time.

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