Books·How I Wrote It

How publishing books inspired Merilyn Simonds to write a book

Exploring the history of books inspired a memoir for the author of Gutenberg's Fingerprint.
Merilyn Simonds is the author of Gutenberg's Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels and the Lasting Impression of Books. (ECW Press/merilynsimonds.com)

Merilyn Simonds has been writing books for more than 40 years, but they still fascinate her. In Gutenberg's Fingerprint: Paper, Pixels & the Lasting Impression of Books, Simonds documents her journey of publishing one book in two forms. One is made for an e-reader. The other is created from scratch using an old letterpress. This is a history lesson, a memoir and a love letter to words all wrapped into one book.

Below, Simonds discusses the surprising reason why she wrote Gutenberg's Fingerprint and what she learned in the process.

Why humans resist change

"Gutenberg's  Fingerprint was different from any other book that I've written because it was an exploration. I was curious about human resistance to change. It was driven entirely by my own curiosity and my desire to understand nostalgia. The pebble in my shoe for this book was: Why don't people embrace change, when change is part of every single aspect of our lives?

"I wanted to understand what it was about that that makes somebody say 'I will never read a book on an e-reader,' even though e-readers and paper books both have their advantages and disadvantages. I dove down all of these rabbit holes and realized that my own relationship with paper was very complex. Likewise with ink and type, etc. So the book started to become a memoir. It proceeded very organically. I didn't really even know it was a book until quite far into the process."

Write first, outline later

"I write to discover. I'm not the person who has an outline. I have several drafts done before I do an outline because I don't really know what a book is about until I've written in it for some time. This book was at the extreme of that. I had no idea when I started a section where it was going to take me. I used to think that a really good writer knows what they are doing before they start. I am a very slow writer. I'm very intuitive. I used to think that was a flaw. After Gutenberg's Fingerprint, I'm much more comfortable with that. I actually see it as a strength because I'm completely open to whatever is happening. I will go where the story takes me rather than trying to impose a form on the story."

Publishing is teamwork

"Making those two books for Gutenberg's Fingerprint changed so much about how I think about reading, but also how I think about writing. Most of us don't know very much about this thing we call a book that we hold in our hands. I certainly didn't before I began this process. I had worked in books for 40 years but I didn't really know where they came from.

"I used to think that the writer was the centre of the publishing process. When really, as I say in the book, I'm just a two-by-four helping to prop up the architecture. These are collaborative efforts. There's something remarkable and exciting and exhilarating about feeling that you are part of that collective. I think that writers often feel very lonely and very removed from the world, which you have to be in order to observe it and think about it and recreate it. But, once we get to publishing, it is a team effort. We are part of a world. I found quite a shift in my thinking in that area."

Merilyn Simonds' comments have been edited and condensed.

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