By Meredith Farkas | February 8, 2006
For those who don’t know, I am currently writing a book on libraries and technology. At this point, I can’t even imagine what life would be like if I didn’t spend every weekend doing research and writing. I mean, I do something book-related almost every day, so it’s completely sewn into the fabric of my life. I might even feel a little sad when I’m done with it, though I am really looking forward to pleasure reading, and getting out of the house, and just laying around and doing NOTHING. Ahhhhh….
I still have A LOT of work left on the book, but the writing is going really well. I’m right on schedule with it, which makes me feel much less stressed about the whole thing (which is good because I’m a major stress case). I thought I should share some of the things I’ve learned so far about writing a book, which might be useful to people who have considered doing it. I haven’t really talked much with other writers, so these may just be reflections on the way I work best and not the way others do. So feel free to ignore everything I write here; it’s not the gospel.
1. It’s really important to manage the project well. Write down all of the tasks that need to be done by your deadline and give yourself deadlines for each task. I’ve never been the procrastinating type, so this part of writing the book comes easy to me. I don’t handle stress well, so I structure anything I do in such a way to give me plenty of time at the end for unforseen problems. Mentally, I just can’t handle doing things at the last minute, which has forced me to be very good at planning and following through with my plans. While I’d rather cope with stress better than I do, it’s good that I don’t procrastinate too much.
2. Structure things the way that works best for you. There is no right way to write a book. I got advice early on that I should do research for a few months and then spend the rest of the time writing. But because each of my chapters is on a different subject, I find it better to spend a week researching a chapter and a week writing the chapter (sometimes less and sometimes more depending on the topic). This is what works best for me for this particular project. Figure out what works best for you and do it that way.
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I went through a period in December, after my dog died and when I was about halfway done with the writing part of the book, when I really didn’t want to write. I just felt worn out and unmotivated. So I restructured my deadlines in light of how I was feeling. It’s important that you put some padding into your project plan for such malaises. You can’t force yourself to write or your writing may end up being awful. Since then, I’ve written three chapters, so it was good that I gave myself that time to just chill and enjoy being with my husband.
4. A book is a lot more more than research and writing. There are so many other things, like figures, graphics, Web links, screenshots (and getting permission for said screenshots), citations, sidebars, interviews, etc. that you have to think about. I decided to save most of this stuff until the end, because I don’t want to lose focus on my writing. At first, I was trying to create correct citations while I was writing and it was taking up a lot of my time and mental energy. I decided to just write and put all of the citation information down in whatever form I happened to put it in for now. I’ll fix them when I edit the chapters. But maybe most people find citing sources more effortless than I do. I never seem to get them right! I’m always embarassed when students ask me about how to cite stuff, because inside I’m thinking boy are you asking the wrong person! Bad librarian!
5. It’s a good idea not to edit anything until you’ve written everything. Maybe it’s just me, but I will totally lose focus if I start editing any of my writing before I’ve finished writing. I am very hard on myself when I edit my work, and when I started reading my first chapter, I felt very discouraged about the book in general. That kind of a feeling can paralyze me. Also, it’s better to edit when you know what the whole book looks like and you know better what needs to be restructured. You need to be able to see the forest before taking a whack at the trees.
6. You will need to lay-out the chapters in your book for your proposal, but don’t be surprised if it all changes when you start writing. I’d intended to have one chapter on blogs, but as I was writing, this chapter grew to ginormous proportions. I realized that it worked a lot better as three chapters. Some other chapters ended up needing to be restructured that way too, and others I ended up combining since social software doesn’t necessarily fit into neat discrete categories. I’ve been writing more than I’d projected for nearly every chapter, but I made a conscious decision not to worry about it until I edit the book so that I don’t lose focus on writing. I’m sure there are plenty of things I can cut later on, but I don’t want to obsess over it while I’m writing. The more I think about things other than writing, the more difficult I find it to write.
7. If you’re having trouble, talk to your editor. My editor has given me a lot of good advice and has calmed a lot of my (often irrational) fears. She was the one who helped me to focus on the writing and not think about all the other stuff until I’m done writing. And that was the best advice anyone could have given me. You can really get paralyzed by all the other stuff. I’m lucky to have an editor who is also the best librarian-writer I know, so she really KNOWS about writing. But any editor, I’m sure, it a good support since they deal with crazy writers all the time.
8. My husband has also been a big help in keeping me sane and in picking up a lot of the slack with the housework. It’s important to have someone (significant other, parent, friend, etc.) that you can talk to about all of your irrational fears about the book and who will tell you that you are being ridiculous. I don’t know if I could have done this without Adam’s support. When I freak out about stuff, he’s always there to encourage me and to help me come up with a concrete plan to get things done. I don’t know how he puts up with my shenanigans, but I’m glad he does. I’m a very lucky girl.
9. Books are really hard to write when you have a full-time job — but totally worth it. I hadn’t actually planned on writing a book. This all happened because of my blog (which is just crazy!!!). I was approached by my editor who asked me if I’d ever considered writing a book. And while I honestly hadn’t thought of it since high school (when I came to the conclusion that I was not a good enough writer to ever write a book) I certainly was interested. But I did consider saying no. There were a lot of things about the project that made me nervous. Would I have the time to do it with a full-time job and a new house? Did I really want to give up all of my free time for almost a year? Could I actually write that much? What if my writing sucks? What if the book ends up being a total embarassment? But in the end, I said yes because it would have been much more insane not to do it. I mean, how many people spend their whole life trying to get a book published and never do? This is an amazing opportunity and I probably would have regretted it forever if I’d said no. I’m still kind of surprised anyone would want me to write a book, but my entire life has been rather surreal ever since I started writing this blog. I’d never have guessed a year ago that someone would ever call me an expert in anything (other than maybe in Bruce Springsteen or chocolate or something) or that people would listen to anything I have to say. Crazy crazy world.
Which leads me to my last point…
10. Don’t underestimate yourself! You may think that you couldn’t ever write a book. You may love to write, but think that you’re not good enough. You may not think you have anything interesting or worthwhile to say. Consider for a moment that maybe you are wrong. Maybe you are underestimating yourself and are looking at yourself through a funhouse mirror. I have spent most of my life thinking that I’m not good enough for things and have let plenty of opportunities pass me by. I hadn’t even planned on writing a thesis as an undergrad — a professor of mine pressured me into it — and that ended up being the best experience I had in college. So whether someone e-mails you and asks you to write a book or not, if you want to do it, go for it! You may just be the next Rachel Singer Gordon or something!