We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE


The Story of How a Book Happened

William Least Heat-Moon

Publication Year: 2014

The story behind the writing of the best-selling Blue Highways is as fascinating as the epic trip itself. More than thirty years after his 14,000-mile, 38-state journey, William Least Heat-Moon reflects on the four years he spent capturing the lessons of the road trip on paper—the stops and starts in his composition process, the numerous drafts and painstaking revisions, the depressing string of rejections by publishers, the strains on his personal relationships, and many other aspects of the toil that went into writing his first book. Along the way, he traces the hard lessons learned and offers guidance to aspiring and experienced writers alike. Far from being a technical manual, Writing Blue Highways: The Story of How a Book Happened is an adventure story of its own, a journey of “exploration into the myriad routes of heart and mind that led to the making of a book from the first sorry and now vanished paragraph to the last words that came not from a graphite pencil but from a letterpress in Tennessee.”

Readers will not find a collection of abstract formulations and rules for writing; rather, this book gracefully incorporates examples from Heat-Moon’s own experience. As he explains, “This story might be termed an inadvertent autobiography written not by the traveler who took Ghost Dancing in 1978 over the byroads of America but by a man only listening to him. That blue-roadman hasn’t been seen in more than a third of a century, and over the last many weeks as I sketched in these pages, I’ve regretted his inevitable departure.” Filtered as the struggles of the “blue-roadman” are through the awareness of someone more than thirty years older with a half dozen subsequent books to his credit, the story of how his first book “happened” is all the more resonant for readers who may not themselves be writers but who are interested in the tricky balance of intuitive creation and self-discipline required for any artistic endeavor.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Further Reading, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

pdf iconDownload PDF (51.5 KB)
pp. i-vii


pdf iconDownload PDF (13.6 KB)
pp. ix

read more

I. Hacking Out

pdf iconDownload PDF (56.4 KB)
pp. 1-5

The winter of 1977 began the day before Thanksgiving and lasted nearly to the first week of spring. Even in the middle latitudes where I lived in central Missouri, snow falling on the second of December took months to...

read more

II. The Journey Contemplated

pdf iconDownload PDF (98.3 KB)
pp. 7-13

In the weeks leading to my setting forth on the road, I saw my ten-year marriage collapse and my part-time job teaching English at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, disappear because of declining enrollment. Underlying...

read more

III. Onto the Blue Roads

pdf iconDownload PDF (103.7 KB)
pp. 15-26

This chapter really lies within Blue Highways, but a few elements (what we’ve come to know as a “backstory”) will help account for the book that fetched up so distant from the place of its embarkation. Once the road...

read more

IV. Following a Blackfeet Pencil

pdf iconDownload PDF (163.7 KB)
pp. 27-46

The first days after my return were a scramble of relief, joy, and uncertainty about just how to begin a new life with so many former underpinnings collapsed or eradicated as if they’d never been. Two inescapables...

read more

V. The Pretzel versus the Book

pdf iconDownload PDF (117.0 KB)
pp. 47-61

Soon after my return, a woman I’d met not long before the journey began moved into an apartment two doors away. She was an attractive high school teacher of Spanish, a woman who liked to read and laugh. After a...

read more

VI. A Guy in a Metal Suicide-Box

pdf iconDownload PDF (257.8 KB)
pp. 63-82

On weekday evenings in December, I began revising the opening pages in hopes of seeing what a finished text might look like, something good enough to show my longtime friend Jack LaZebnik, a playwright and poet...

read more

VII. A Piece of the Spectrum

pdf iconDownload PDF (78.1 KB)
pp. 83-97

Around Lucy, I’d taken to referring to the manuscript not as Blue Highways but as “a certain forthcoming book,” which more than amused us—it suggested an end to the work and the existence it demanded. The Tribune...

read more

VIII. A Burglar and a Surgeon

pdf iconDownload PDF (80.8 KB)
pp. 99-114

Two years almost to the day of writing the first sentence of Blue Highways, I put in the mail a third version of sample pages along with three photographs to Little, Brown, one of America’s oldest publishers. To celebrate...

read more

IX. The Secret Society Begins to Emerge

pdf iconDownload PDF (182.6 KB)
pp. 115-132

The appendicitis intensified a growing notion that Blue Highways might not find a publisher during my life, so through another deliberate self-deception I tried one more wile to keep the idea from weakening my will...

read more

X. The Wheel and the Plaque

pdf iconDownload PDF (101.2 KB)
pp. 133-140

The last month before publication was a seesaw of little heydays and small retrogressions as the Great Wheel turned faster than I’d ever experienced. Round and round she goes, and where she stops everybody knows is nowhere and never....

read more

An Appendix of Sorts

pdf iconDownload PDF (283.2 KB)
pp. 141-164

I’ve mentioned several ruses and self-deceptions I used to keep from losing heart during the writing of Blue Highways. Now, some thirty years later, I’ve dropped some of those ploys, but there is one that continues...

read more

A Note of Thanks, Permissions, About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (71.1 KB)
pp. 165-169

In addition to those people named within the chapters, my appreciation to Edgar Ailor III, Steven Archer, Thomas Dillingham, L. J. Keown, L. D. Laws, Jo Ann Trogdon, Clair Willcox, Sara Davis, Mary Conley, Kristi...

E-ISBN-13: 9780826273253
E-ISBN-10: 0826273254
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220264
Print-ISBN-10: 0826220266

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 26 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014