How I Wrote My Second Book in 3 Weeks: Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

Published June 09, 2015 by Jane Portman
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Update: this book was ultimately launched by InVision as a free course called Fundamental UI Design. Great title!

Cosmetologists say, your skin cells love stress. It makes them work harder, breathe well, and renew. I say, working in high-stress can be beneficial to your career.

Sure, it can hurt you in the long run and damage your health. But it’s the only way you can obtain massive results in little time — while riding that momentum.

That’s exactly what I did in March 2015. I wrote my second book, The Principles of Amazing UI Design, in 3 weeks.

How we sealed the deal

This is how it started. In the end of February InVision approached me about writing a book for them. They would distribute it massively for free to their huge audience.

It wasn’t free work, but the compensation was dramatically less than I could make with consulting work in the same period of time. Why did I agree?

First, I’ve always been a fan of long-form, evergreen marketing content. To me, hours invested into writing a book have better ROI than 10 blog posts that sink into obscurity. Now I could call myself a two-time author — voilà! — instead of being just another person with a blog.

Second, if you ever launched a book, or at least heard about it (hey Nathan Barry), then you know that actual writing is hardly 30% of all the work. This time, InVision promised to take care of the launch, the distribution, and even the editing. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Sure, not all the laurels would belong to me, and the piece would never be mine to own. But I couldn’t just miss such incredible chance to practice the art of writing for the sake of it — if you can say so in the field of UI design.

Plus, we agreed upon a (large) number of email subscribers that will be added to my own list as a result of this free shebang. At this point, the project became a no-brainer.

So we sealed the deal and got started.

The process & the tools

Overall deadline for the book was approximately one month, while in fact I wrote it in two painstaking weekly sprints, 8000 words each, a week apart from each other — just enough to take a breath.

In daytime, I’d run errands, catch up on client work, and suffer from incredible procrastination. At nights, I’d facepalm and start writing to get the thing done — after all, I had to keep my word.

I wrote at least half of the volume sitting in the kitchen chair, using my iPad with a simple Bluetooth keyboard. Sometimes I’d be doped by a bit of whiskey and cola — because in the next room my husband would have business parties with his colleagues, and I had to get my stuff done instead.

It felt a bit miserable at times, but I was so proud to be working towards such an honorable goal. So I pressed onwards.

The very first few chapters were probably the hardest, and then it got better with progress. If it was my own commercial project, I’d probably appreciate another round of editing. But my output was rather satisfactory for the circumstances. I was happy to finally express all my ideas on UI design in a good solid order.

By the way, I highly recommend 1Writer app for writing in Markdown. After some research it was in draw with Byword, but I ended up using 1Writer as a matter of personal design preference.

Fun little coincidence

As I was writing, I was working on UI design for Airstory — a stunning new project for Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers and Jim Briggs. Ironically, it was an app for writers.

I didn’t design Airstory site, but current app screenshots are mine and have my book title on them, which I find rather amusing.

Originally I had a funny recursive idea: to write a book using the new app, and to demonstrate the creative process in the book itself. It didn’t quite work because of the deadlines, but some screenshots still made it into the book as illustrations.

Key takeaways for you, my friend

Writing a book as a fantastic mental exercise. It’s great to step back and to take philosophical, large-scale view at what you’re doing. Not only you look at your career, you also look at your craft as a whole, you define principles of the work, and think what younger generations can borrow from your experience.

The body of the book isn’t that huge of a deal. Seriously, I went through this twice (the first time with Mastering App Presentation) and in both cases it took just a few weeks. You just need to muster up your courage and energy.

You will probably procrastinate a lot, and that’s natural. Unless you write books for a living, you’ll feel a bit insecure for the position. Insecurity breeds procrastination. Lack of writing practice breeds procrastination. But isn’t success all about getting out of your comfort zone?

Bite off more than you can chew. Your moral principles will keep your afloat. You’ll have some sleep deprivation, but that’s nothing compared to your ambitious business goals.

Set tight deadlines and stay accountable. This will help to fight your procrastination, to keep your head above the water. There’s nothing worse than bragging about something you haven’t accomplished yet, but peer accountability is awesome.

Don’t compromise your client work. For me, delaying client work and not keeping up to my word is like poison — and this slow poison can make your living unbearable. At least, if you’re one of those poor creatures like myself, with plenty of conscience and guilt.

And the last takeaway, which I failed to implement. In my case, the situation was close to a burnout. I even swapped my MicroConf ticket and ran off for a vacation instead. So…

Once you’re done with the book, keep writing. Here’s a great post by Austin Kleon. He says, don’t stop writing. I agree! Make use of that traction, that tingling in your fingers, that wonderful writing habit.

Two other books for your inspiration

If you made it this far into the story, then you should be getting that creative itch now: “Why don’t I write a book myself?”

Here are two awesome books that will steer your energy in the right direction:

“But wait, where’s your new book, Jane?”

Reasonable question! As of today, InVision team is still working on editing and publishing The Principles of Amazing UI Design. It will be available online (rather than a downloadable PDF) and should look really nice.

You bet, I’ll send an update to my subscribers when it goes live! Sign up today and get your free course on managing designers (which seems to be the second popular thing that I created, after the books).

Now go and start writing!

So you see, book writing is not about fancy fountain pens, leather journals, cappuccinos, and romantic alleys. Long-form writing does bring joy, but it can bring tears at the same time.

Just go for it — it’s quite an experience. Plus, you’ll have an everlasting asset when the grind is over. Good luck!

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