Creating the Book. Part 4: The Writing

Published October 10, 2013 by Jane Portman
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The final layout of Mastering App Presentation includes about 24,500 words. I’m personally responsible for writing 18,000 words of body copy myself, and about 6,000 words came from amazing design experts who answered my questions in six interviews.

I started writing very early, right after the initial decision. I also did that secretively, just sharing the plan with my husband to get his support and approval. Before making any public declarations, I wanted to make sure I was indeed capable of producing quality content consistently and in large amounts.

Adopting the Habit

The only thing that actually got me through the main body of the book was a commitment to write 1,000 words a day. I took this advice from Nathan Barry, and he references back to Chris Guillebeau.

That practice was hard to execute, but felt extremely rewarding. Each day I sat down, opened up the text editor and just poured out my thoughts on the topic that was on my agenda. Then at the end of the day, no matter what activities followed that writing, I could say that I had made significant progress towards my final goal. Such daily satisfaction is a fantastic type of productivity steroid!

Still, I have to confess I didn’t adopt this habit entirely. Those large continuous periods of writing were heavily diluted by days of research, organizational work, design activities and client work. I probably did my best at gradually shutting down all ongoing client projects. But there were still accidental splashes of activity that crossed out quite a few days from the publishing schedule.

Initial Writing Euphoria

I didn’t write all the chapters one by one. I created an outline first and then picked the most attractive subject I wanted to write next.

Overall I had about three stages that actually made the book. The first portion of writing went nice and smooth and covered the majority of topics. It was encouraging, rejuvenating and satisfying to put down everything I know on the subject. It felt so good to observe the progress and see the number of the words grow into a serious range.

Finally I was able to say, “I am writing a book” and actually know it was true and I had already made my way through the majority of the outlined topics.

Looking back I can say this first stage made a perfect example of the Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule). It took me about 20 percent of time to cover 80 percent of the book outline. But it’s such a small amount of work compared to the overall publishing effort: finishing the copy, editing it, designing bonus materials, doing all the managerial, organizational and promotional work.

Getting It Done

The second portion wasn’t as easy to tackle. I was left with a few sections that seemed less inspiring. The task sounded like “just finally get it done” (warmest greetings to fellow JFDI members). So I pulled myself together and completed the body of the book.

Surprisingly, not all of the leftover sections were as troublesome as I had anticipated. It’s overall quite charming to see how your mind-set evolves as you think about the topic, and then sit down and actually start writing. And, more importantly — continue and finish the writing, too.

The Pie Crust

And the third “writing intensive” happened much later. It was devoted to the introduction, closing words, “technical” copyright page and website copy — everything that required closer attention and strategic thinking.

Maybe we can qualify this part of the work as “the pie crust” — the introduction and the closing words are surrounding, enclosing the main body of the book. They are what’s getting the most valuable portions of readers’ interest, the beginning and the end of their user (reader) experience.

I wonder if fellow authors can get this done more quickly. It didn’t come naturally to me. It felt like I should follow some publishing etiquette, entitled to speak some loud words and be self-promotional. I personally preferred to be more humble.

So I went poring through the first and last pages of all the books that served as my role models (there’s a special blog post in this series devoted to those books, but the list keeps expanding as I discover and read more). All the authors approached this task in quite a similar manner but still managed to express their individuality.

There was a shaky balance to achieve between the following things:

It probably took me three times as long, compared to my regular writing speed, to figure out and jot down the perfect content for those parts of the books. I cut self-promotion down to bare links and focused on the motivational part. There I also did my best to cut it to the point. Nothing is worse than wandering around the bush with the same inspirational ideas over and over again.

I paid special attention to the Acknowledgements section and mentioned virtually everybody who took part in the project. Initially I worked with people whom I would be glad to feature later in this list. Here I’m not talking about the experts who contributed (that’s too obvious), but about those who were hired to help as part of my publishing team.

Would it make me happy if I worked on a book project and the author gave me public credit for that? Absolutely. So I did best to deliver the same kind of pleasure (together with a gift book copy) to everybody from that Acknowledgements page.

Editing

All the book copy got two rounds of editing from me, and one from the editor, not counting minor follow-up tweaks. This process did take awhile, but the result was very much worth the time spent. I should admit editing requires much focus and stamina. It’s so easy to procrastinate when you have the pressure of pages awaiting your review.

All writing gurus advocate that the first draft is just something that needs to be done. Further it serves as a mere piece of molding material that you can shape into something worthwhile with warm caring hands. In my case, these were my own hands and the hands of Emily.

As I read over and edited my own lines, I crossed out entire lyrical paragraphs, made sentences shorter, cut everything to the point. My goal was to create a distillation of advice that’s easy to understand and apply.

Summing Up

Writing a book takes knowledge and skills. Knowledge comes from experience and research. Skills can be gained and refined. But more importantly, writing a book takes time, effort, attention and perseverance.

Still, it is manageable and overall quite possible to implement.

Sadly, writing is only a small part of publishing process. Particularly that applies to such media-rich projects as Mastering App Presentation, which includes expert interviews, illustrations, custom layouts, hand-crafted image libraries and design templates. There is yet so much to tell about how we put all these things together!

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