Writing A Book
A TV Reporter's Tale
By Andrew Holtz
I'll keep this short.
That's what broadcasters do. Every word, every second is
precious. So it's natural for us to dream of breaking free
of those constraints.
Be careful what you wish for.
Last fall, I was asked whether I would be interested in writing
a book about the medicine depicted on the hit TV show "House."
Sure, I quickly replied. Though I'd never written a book,
I've been writing for a living for decades
I was Medical Correspondent at CNN, I did stories on the medical
accuracy of various TV shows and movies.
I knew that cranking out "The Medical Science of House,
M.D." would be hard work
but a career in broadcasting
did not prepare me for the mass production of words the assignment
required. I'm used to shaving words
not piling them
on. I soon felt like a designer of super-light racing bicycles
suddenly confronted with the job of building a monster truck.
Sure, they both have wheels, but little else in common.
Actually, the book project started with a familiar research
routine. I watched and logged every episode of the House series
looking for good anecdotes and cases
and then searched
through the medial literature for the documentation and experts
I started writing. The words came by the hundreds. Plenty
indeed too many
for TV stories. But I needed thousands
upon thousands. The assignment called for 70,000 words
A few weeks before my deadline
the mountain of un-written
words towered menacingly. I began to fear I might not make
it. Even a thousand words a day wouldn't be enough. I had
to write faster
and faster. Crafting and winnowing the
text were not priorities. While trying to write well, I recognized
that volume had become king.
Two weeks before the deadline
I asked for and received
a reprieve: two more weeks. If I wrote 1300 words a day, seven
days a week, I could make it. Some days went better than others.
I fell a bit behind the curve
and the average daily
word count needed to make my deadline rose to 1700.
I had some good days, once cranking out more than 2400 words.
Imagine, writing 2400 words in a single day, about 10 times
what I'd write for a TV story. I'd transformed from a sprinter
into a marathoner.
it was done. Just before the deadline, I sent
my editor the manuscript for "The Medical Science of
House, M.D." containing 72-thousand
The book, all 272 pages of it, will be on bookshelves in
So will this old TV guy take another turn holding a fire
hose spewing thousands of words into the hungry maw of a book
assignment? Oh, probably. A book is nice to hold
the pain of writing fades.
But while a book has ample bulk for a thorough examination
of a broad topic, there are so many words that one more or
less simply doesn't matter. I still love the clarity and precision
of a tightly-written TV piece. Each word counts and there's
never a second to waste.
About the Author
Former CNN Medical Correspondent Andrew Holtz is an independent
journalist covering health and medicine from Portland, Oregon.
He is a Board Member of the Association of Health Care Journalists,
www.healthjournalism.org. Holtz was AHCJ President from 2000
to 2004 and served as Interim Executive Director from 2004
His new book, "The Medical Science of House, M.D."
will be published in Oct. 2006.
He has contributed articles on policy issues affecting health
and health care to Oncology Times. He authored a new introduction
for the re-issue of "How to Live 365
Days a Year," a classic health advice bestseller that
popularized concepts of mind-body connections in health.
Holtz hosted and co-produced Taking the Pulse, a pilot series
of health policy programs on Oregon Public Broadcasting. He
also hosted HoltzReport: Battle for Cancer for the Fuji TV
network in Japan. He was Tobacco Issues Editor for InTouch
magazine. His work has also appeared on the PBS television
program HealthWeek, Medical Detectives on TLC and websites
including Reuters Health.
You can get more information on Andrew and his book at www.holtzreport.com