You just keep moving forward and doing what you do and hope that it resonates with people. And if it doesn’t, you just keep moving on until you find a project that does. – Octavia Spencer
Last year I had a go at working on book-length projects. The plan was to write a first draft in blog posts and then stitch the lot together, going through as many edits as needed. I created enough material for four books and learned a few things along the way. Here are some of them.
Write in paragraphs
My early blog posts were written a sentence at a time. I think I’d read somewhere that this made for pacier material that was easier to read. The problem is that it’s much harder to edit. A 40,000 word manuscript may have 4,000 sentences, over a thousand paragraphs. It’s not fun having to get rid of all the extra carriage returns.
Have a plan
I worked out a structure for each book on slips of paper, a concept on each one, and then followed the trail of slips, writing up each chapter. Having that thread made it much easier to get on and write the words – instead of wondering what I was going to write about I simply had to elaborate on the ideas on the slip.
Do your research
You have to read if you want to have ideas. But you can also get stuck in the ideas that you’ve read – thinking that there are no other ways to do them. Some people are fond of saying, “We know this.” Others are less certain of themselves, asking instead, “What about this?” Who should you trust – the ones that are certain or the ones that are not?
What you need to work out is what you think before you find out what others think. There’s a lot of material that talks about stuff that’s already been talked about before. But you need to have your own point of view so that you can critically think about and consider what else is out there. But there is a lot of good stuff and much of the value you will bring is in making it accessible to others.
Work on what interests you
Spending a few months working on a particular topic is no fun unless you’re actually interested in the topic. It’s much easier to put in the time when you like what you’re studying and are curious, maybe even desperate, to learn more.
Create the best quality product you can
If you’re going to work on something take the time to make it good. With writing, that means editing and rewriting. The posts on this blog are first drafts – they’re not meant to be perfect. But if I want to put them in a book I’ll want every sentence to work – delivering something useful to the reader.
There’s still much to learn
I’m working up the energy to start a new project. I’m starting to get a feel for the way in which I like to work but I need to look at my list of potential projects and figure out which one is worth putting time and effort into. What criteria should I use to make a decision?
Something to consider in the next post.