Six years ago I wrote “For the Love of Writing,” about my love of writing as well as the discipline of it. We think of writing as a romantic, unknowable thing — creative inspiration strikes and we’re off to the races, or it’s suddenly dried up and we have nothing to say. But I don’t think creativity really works this way. I think it’s a lot less sexy than that. It’s mostly about hard work.
In my earlier post, I shared some tips, tricks, and tools for getting started. In this post, I’ll share four things I’ve learned since working on my most ambitious writing project yet — writing a book.
- Think about the big picture. Before I started writing Listen Like You Mean It, I knew that for an average blog post, I’d need about an hour from start to finish before sending it off to my editor. But that didn’t quite translate to writing a book. Some author friends advised writing many “posts” and then stringing them together, but I felt like I’d miss out on the depth of insight and storytelling I wanted to bring to the book. I focused instead on a chapter by chapter level of writing: each chapter had a clear scope and point I wanted to make. It was fairly easy to approach in this way. But in doing so, I missed the big picture. My first draft of the book was 12 tidy chapters that in no way spoke to each other. In my focus on chapters, I had forgotten to consider how the book would function as a whole. Breaking a large project up into manageable pieces is a known productivity tip, but it’s also important to remember how those pieces all fit together. Instead of having to cobble together connective tissue between chapters after the fact, remember the big picture and try to draw a throughline as you go.
- Systems are your friend. When you are working on a multi-phased project, no matter how fast a writer you are, you’re going to need to put some systems in place to keep you organized. Enter the lowly holy spreadsheet: a place to capture every item on my growing list of book to-do’s. I kept a tab for interviews I wanted to pursue and research I wanted to undertake; a tab for random marketing ideas that popped up; a tab for major deadlines; a tab for tracking day-to-day progress. The last tab was most crucial for me — tracking my writing, editing, and illustrating time day over day became a meaningful…