The Story of How a Book Happened
William Least Heat-Moon
184 pages
5.25 x 8
26 illustrations and color illustrations

Formats available:
Hardcover   $24.95 TR
ISBN: 978-0-8262-2026-4
E Book   $24.95 TR
ISBN: 978-0-8262-7325-3

About the Book

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.


William Trogdon, who writes under the name William Least Heat-Moon, was born of English-Irish-Osage ancestry in Kansas City, Missouri. He holds a bachelor's degree in photojournalism and a doctorate in English from the University of Missouri. Among his writing credits, he is the author of Blue Highways, which spent 42 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 1982-83. William Least Heat-Moon lives and writes outside Columbia, Missouri.


In Writing Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon offers essential lessons that go well beyond craft: the power of perseverance, the potency of story, and the singular importance of honoring intuition. Students at all levels would do well to hear Heat-Moon’s hard-earned wisdom. An instructive, affirming look at the arduous and sometimes magical process by which an idea becomes a book. --Dinty W. Moore, author of The Mindful Writer: Nobles Truths of the Writing Life

In recounting the prolonged, often painful labor that finally resulted in the birth of his beautifully alive book, Heat-Moon provides far more illuminating detail on what’s required to write (or, more exactly, to write well) than any follow-these-steps "practical" manual. . . . And as readers of Heat-Moon’s books know, one never regrets following his lead. Although "Writing 'Blue Highways'" takes us on a distinctly different sort of journey--through more a mental than physical landscape--Heat-Moon again proves an expert and companionable guide. --St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Because Writing Blue Highways is a hybrid--part memoir, part how-to, and part cultural history--I think it will appeal to all kinds of readers. These readers will include, first and foremost, Blue Highways fans and readers of nonfiction in general, but I firmly believe this this is a book that should be on the shelf of every writer and widely adopted by teachers of creative nonfiction. It's fascinating, informative, and flat-out fun. --Ned Stuckey-French, author of The American Essay in the American Century

Any writer or writing workshop will find instruction and reassurance in this eloquent back story to Blue Highways, an iconic work of contemporary literary nonfiction. William Least Heat-Moon unfolds his writing process, from concept to reporting, notations to fitful drafts and ruthless revisions, spurred by readers and remembered advice from famous writers, all punctuated by the struggles familiar to any artist--self-doubt, rejection, despair, and determined regeneration. --Beth Taylor, Co-Director, Nonfiction Writing Program, Brown University

Writing Blue Highways: The Story of How a Book Happened is just the sort of text I've been seeking for my creative writing classes. It's a unique blend of memoir and advice, telling the story of a writer's process with wit, wisdom, and useful, often colorful guidance for writers at all stages of their careers. As he documents the development of his American road trip classic, Least Heat-Moon both instructs and inspires, showing how a deep and tenacious writing process can become a path to "resurrection, restoration, a return to a refigured and rebuilt life with rebuilt hopes." --Nancy McCabe, Director of the Writing Program, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford


Edgar I. Ailor III, Photography by Edgar I. Ailor III and Edgar I. Ailor IV, Foreword by William Least Heat-Moon

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