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!
Maybe not the gospel, but I’m hard-pressed to disagree with anything in that list (and if I ever write another edition of First Have Something to Say, I may come ask for permission to quote the whole thing!).
Count me as another who would find it distressing to postpone all the writing until all the research is done; it delays the gratification of having some chapters “done” and puts too much pressure on the writing end.
As for #5: As long as you mean full edits/second drafts, as opposed to all the internal editing that’s inherent to writing on a computer, I agree fully.
This is a great short discussion. I hope others find it helpful.
Great post! As someone who was formerly an assistant editor at a trade publishing house in New York before becoming a librarian, I would also recommend that anyone writing a book consider buying a copy of the latest Chicago Manual of Style. I can attest to the fact that most publishing folks regard it as their bible. Not only is it the most thorough statement of any citation style, it gives a good overview to the bookmaking process (particularly copyediting and proofreading markup) and style issues (punctuation, numbers, tables, etc.). My wife, who works at home as a freelance copyeditor, gets to keep our 15th edition in our apartment; I’ve got the 14th here in my office in the library. What’s really funny is that, like the Bible, the Chicago Manual of Style is the source of endless arguments over the exact meaning of its rules and precepts; I can recall many heated debates over some technical point in Chicago (that’s how it gets abbreviated in publishing circules) where both parties were citing chapter and verse numbers (“No, 15.146 doesn’t apply; it’s obvious that we should follow 15.148 for this book in the source list.”) Proofreaders and copyeditors who mark up manuscript will also cite Chicago chapter and item numbers next to some of their corrections and questions in the margins. Check out the manual at the publisher’s site.
I think we’re in the same club, because I can empathize with every single one of these points. All free time spent writing and researching, grateful to have a fiancee who’s taking care of just about everything else (while she goes to school!), still going to a hectic day job in the morning… But all at the same time knowing that I just couldn’t have turned down the opportunity to do something like this.
Good job, good luck, and I’m keeping an eye out for your book when it hits the presses!
Thanks! Your book on RSS looks really cool. Probably higher-level stuff than I am capable of doing, but I’m very interested in Web Services-related stuff. I really love books that teach you the cool nuts and bolts stuff that you can do with technology.
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Hi Meredith! Catching up here, and I think my ears were ringing. Thanks :). And, a great post, I think it will be helpful to anyone contemplating taking on this sort of project themselves.
Great idea for a book on a connection between Librarians and IT. Hope you will find some interesting link in my Webliography: Librarians and Techies – A NEXUS
Stay connected and let me share more ideas on your book. I would love to see the contents or any thing about this book.
Thanks for the link to your Webliography! Just glancing at it now I see many things I’ve already read and many more articles I’ve never seen before. Terrific!!!
I’ve written 6 books and I *still* don’t understand why people want to buy them. But I’m glad they do. There’s no thrill like someone coming up to you and saying, “I read your book and I just couldn’t wait to meet you.”
Like you, I write first, then read it through and edit. I leave some questionable stuff in–so the editor has something to do. Editors are wonderful final arbiters of grammar issues. But be sure your personal style still comes through.
What’s the name of the book, the publisher, and release date? I want to be sure to get it and to review it for my newsletter, The One-Person Library.
One last thing–enjoy!
I am in the process of writing my first book, ever! I am so very excited, but I am inexperienced. I got straight A’s in all of my creative writing classes from elementary school through high school, but I didn’t go to college. Actually, I was married right out of high school. My husband supports me in my decisions and thinks I am a good writer, but I get stuck easily and I don’t quite know the fundamentals of writing a good book. I can’t seem to get my ideas to jump off the pages like the books I read do. Could someone recommend a book or website I could get or go to, to get the help I am searching for? Or should I just say forget it and quit trying for something too far out of my league?
Am just trying to get motivated to write a book based on my life experiences any advice would be greatly appreciated.