By Meredith Farkas | June 16, 2006
I had a dream about Rachel Singer Gordon the other night…
I told her I was done with my book and she shook her head and told me to keep editing.
In spite of this dream and the nagging feeling that I missed 1,000 little things while editing the book, I printed it out and will be mailing it to her on Monday.
Here’s the Damage:
- Approximately 100,000 words
- 1 Printer which now sounds like a cat being tortured and won’t actually print anything
- My poor wrist tendons
For past few weeks I literally did nothing but work on the book. It was book, sleep, book, sleep. I had a sudden burst of insane energy due to the fact that I really just wanted to be done. I’ve never felt so motivated. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy writing the book — I did. It’s just that I’ve been breathing, sleeping (and dreaming about) this book for the past 8 months. I haven’t had a life. There have been many weekends where I literally did not leave the house. There were some days where I barely moved away from my computer at all. So towards the end, I started to imagine the idea of not having to write a book anymore. And the idea was very appealing. To be able to sit down and read a non-library-related book? To go away for the weekend without bringing my computer or chapters to edit? Even the idea of cleaning the house seemed appealing to me (in theory Adam, in theory!). Of course I still have a chapter to write for another book (on technology education in LIS schools) that’s due soon, but after writing 100,000 words, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Besides, it’s a topic I have definite opinions on.
I’ve learned a lot in this process, though I don’t know how much useful advice I have to offer. Here’s what I was able to come up with:
1. Don’t spend more time thinking about how it will get done than doing it. When I first started the project, I got a little too giddy about creating an organizational system. I love buying office supplies (new pens… mmmmmm…) and I love creating organizational schemes for things. But it’s very easy to start overthinking this stuff. If you’re spending more than a couple of days figuring out how you’re going to organize your research and your writing (or on how you’re going to decorate your binder), you seriously need someone to slap you back to your senses. I totally identified with Merlin Mann’s “Perfect Apostrophe” podcast (which is hilarious and something any procrastinator will identify with).
2. When you plan out how you’re going to get this book done, remember who is writing it. I am not a procrastinator. In fact, I am the sort of person who always assumes that I am going to get a terrible illness halfway through a project or that my house will burn down along with my computer and all of the backups of my book (even if one of the backups is in another state). So I always pad my schedule for getting things done with a lot of extra “disaster time” at the end. Which is probably why I’m done with my book weeks before it’s actually due (yes, I know, I’m paranoid and crazy, but it works for me). I know myself, and I know that I will be less stressed if I build a lot of time into the schedule for disasters. I created a really demanding writing schedule for myself with a ridiculous amount of time leftover for editing. There were times when I got behind and I would pull a few days out of the editing timeline because I knew I could. I didn’t beat myself up when I just got sick of writing for a while. I didn’t beat myeslf up when I didn’t work on the book for two weeks. I know my strategy was weird, but it worked! I never felt too stressed by this huge task. That’s why you need to create a schedule based on your personality. Do you work best on weekends? At night? Do you get motivated under pressure or do you crack under pressure? Do you need someone to put a gun to your head to get anything done? Think about how you work on projects and build your schedule based on that. If you know you won’t stick to it, then don’t bother creating it. By now you know how you work and it’s not going to suddenly change once you get a book deal. So be realistic. Maybe some people can even write the book without checklists and planning, but I wonder if those people actually get their books in on time (and I’ve heard some horror stories about people who didn’t — yikes!).
3. Take advantage of high-energy times. You will be at your most enthusiastic when you first embark on the project. Yes, you may have 8 months or a year to write the book, but the best thing you can do is jump in and get as much done while you still have that enthusiasm. There were moments in March and April where I really had to force myself to write while I was flying through the book in November and December. Capitalize on that initial enthusiasm, because many months later, you may want to think about anything but your topic.
4. Read your publisher’s submission guidelines. And read them again. Seriously. Make sure you know how they want things done in terms of fonts, margins, file naming conventions, screenshot guidelines, citations, captions, etc. It’s a real pain in the behind to make changes once you’ve written hundreds of pages. Curly quotes were my undoing, though there were plenty of other more minor things I didn’t pay attention to until I had written most of the book. If things like this are not spelled out anywhere, ask these questions early on.
5. Get a straight answer about permissioning. When I was talking about the book deal before the contract had been written up, I asked if I needed to get permission from people/companies for the use of screenshots. Basically the answer I got was “maybe” and “some people do, some people don’t.” Ok, but what should I do? And really, I haven’t ever been able to get a straight answer. As you can guess, I’m a little neurotic and I don’t do well with uncertainty, so I ended up writing to a whole mess of folks from MySpace to Slashdot to Aaron Schmidt to get permission for screenshots (only one company said no and they had a good reason). I heard from just about everyone now and the few I haven’t heard from I have diligently tried to contact via various means, so I feel I did the best I could to get permission. But let me tell you, it was a lot of work and I still have no idea whether it was necessary or not. So find out if this is something you have to do. And see if you can negotiate into your contract for someone at your publishing company to do it, because it’s a big pain in the behind and is a lot to keep track of when you’re already keeping track of a lot.
6. If you’re writing a book on technology for people who may not already know about the technologies you’re discussing, you may want to get someone to proofread your book who also doesn’t know much about technology. I never felt more confident in my chapters on blogs as when my mother said that she understood and liked them (thanks mom!). Sometimes you take certain things for granted or you assume that concepts are easy to grasp that may not be. Showing what you wrote to someone who knows nothing about it is a great test to see if your explanations are understandable. RSS was definitely the biggest challenge for me and it’s the chapter I am the least pleased with.
7. Social bookmarking software is a gift to writers. I don’t know how I would have kept up with all of the research I was doing without good old Blinklist. To be able to take all the articles I want to read for chapter 5 and tag them as “ch5″ made my life so much easier (and yes, I know I ruined the folksonomy for other people). Another tool I really liked was stikipad. It’s a wiki-like application that allows you to easily create wiki pages and to-do lists. So I used it to keep track of what I still needed to edit, which interviews I’d gotten back, which screenshots Adam or I had done, and the permissioning process. It’s not exactly a revolutionary tool, but it worked really well for my purposes (and would probably be great for people writing books together). I love all these cool wiki hybrid productivity tools that have been coming out!
8. If you don’t have a super duper crazy mega laser printer, don’t print out more than 400 pages in the matter of an hour or so. It may say that it can do 20 pages a minute, but that doesn’t mean that it can do 400 pages in 20 minutes (as my husband insisted). Ours actually did do 400 pages in under an hour, but after that it started sounding like a cat being tortured and completely stopped working. We ended up having to buy a new printer because I think I must have melted something in there. D’oh!
9. It’s worth investing some money in things that will protect your wrists. I’ve learned that I’m a really prolific writer. I have much more of a problem writing 700 words than I do writing 5,000. I love to write. The only parts of me that protested writing as much as I did were my wrists. My left wrist has been hurting on and off for the past six months with all the writing I’ve been doing. If you’re planning on doing some major writing, make sure you take good care of your wrists, because they may not be as enthusiastic about the project as you are.
10. If you can’t multitask well, then avoid doing it. I was totally right in my last post on the book about only focusing on the writing while I was in that phase of the project. I had no idea how much effort it would take to edit, deal with getting permissions, deal with screenshots, citations and other stuff. If I’d been working on that while I was writing, there was no way I could have focused on the writing. But that’s me. I guess I need to focus on one mentally taxing thing at a time. I’m sure other people can mentally multitask better. But if you can’t, take my word for it, don’t distract yourself with other parts of the project while you’re writing.
I’m still a little bit in shock that I wrote all this. I was looking at the giant pile of papers on the dining room table that was my manuscript thinking how did this happen? It still hasn’t quite hit me that I’m done with it and I’ve got a lot of anxiety about giving it up, even to a brilliant editor like Rachel. I just can’t believe I’m done. But when I’m hanging out at the Farmer’s Market in Montpelier tomorrow morning, enjoying the Vermont summer sunshine and eating yummy organic treats, I will definitely feel a difference.
I’ll add to this list if I think of any more useful advice. For now, I think I should give my poor wrists a rest. They deserve better than a slave-driver like me.