My Writing Process (Part 1)

I recently published my second book. My experience with that book and the process behind it was MUCH smoother than with the first one, so I thought I would take the time to document it here. I’ll probably write this in stages here and there.

Here’s the rough timeline:

  • mid-July – As near as I can remember, this is when I first created the Word document that would eventually be the manuscript of the book.
  • Labor Day – This is roughly when I finished the first draft of the entire book.
  • late September – After I finished the first draft, I left it completely alone for about three weeks while I worked on other things. As impatient as I can be sometimes, I believe the more time that passes between finishing a draft and reviewing it, the better.
  • mid-October – I finished my own review, re-write, re-review, re-re-write, etc. process until I was finally more-or-less satisfied with it. This is when I started to engage outside reviewers – some for the book as a whole, some for selected pieces. The editing process continued based on feedback from my reviewers.
  • early November – I bought the domain name for the book’s companion web site (cost was about $19, I think) and wrote a little bit of collateral (synopsis for the book cover, that sort of thing). Continued edits. It was at this point I finally decided on a title for the book, with the help of some ad hoc “focus groups” on Facebook.
  • mid November – I launched a design contest to develop the outside cover of the book using DesignCrowd. This took about two weeks and cost $206. I used a poll, shared via Facebook, to narrow down the final design. While that process was ongoing, I also stubbed out and built the web site using WordPress, which took about a day, and I assigned an ISBN (previously paid for) and downloaded a bar code graphic for it (cost $25) for use on the final cover.
  • November 21 – Final (final final final) edits to the book manuscript and the cover design were all submitted to CreateSpace for review that morning. I got the email notice from CreateSpace that everything had passed later that evening and ordered my proof copy on the spot, which was shipped the next day and arrived a few days later.
  • November 30 – The proof copy looked great, so I decided to publish officially the next day. I spent about 45 minutes preparing a social media sharing campaign via HootSuite; announcements will automatically be served twice a week through the first week of March.
  • December 1 – The book is officially published.

My writing process for this book was actually pretty organic and seemed to move quickly. I think that was driven by some design choices I made early on. The format of the book, for example, envisions a daily progression through a long list of tasks. Each task is simple enough, so each “day” (i.e., chapter) is only a couple of pages long. That enabled me to write one chapter in one 20-minute sitting if I wanted to. In reality I was generally able to do at least 4-5 chapters at a time. I would periodically leave my office early and go somewhere by myself to write for a while in the middle of the afternoon – that’s how and when most of the content for the book was written.

The editing process was also pretty organic for me, though I also have to point out that I forced myself to be pretty patient and deliberate here. At one point I read the entire book backwards, literally one sentence at a time, to make sure each sentence made sense and stood on its own. I believe this editing process is the most critical part of the entire writing process. You can’t fall in love with a particular construct, sentence, turn of phrase, or anything like that. If something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and you need to kill it.

I also listened to my reviewers (about ten of them in all). While my reviewers are smart people, they aren’t necessarily writers, and none of them are experts in this stuff the way I am. That meant they were more likely to review this from a “lowest common denominator” perspective. I also layered that with a chapter-by-chapter analysis of reading scores using Readability-Score.com, which is a free tool. The ideal would be to get the book down to a 7th-grade reading level; I think I got it down to 9th-grade, which is more than adequate given the slightly technical nature of the material.

I’ll cover the technical design stuff in my next post.