The five most important things I learned about writing, while writing
Earlier this year, I decided to write a book for people that are interested in learning Android development. While writing a book can seem like a herculean task, I discovered some things that made the process much easier, more manageable and definitely much more enjoyable. Sometimes, even simple phrases and (in retrospect, obvious) advice inspired me to keep going, even when there was no end in sight.
I’m here to share these things with you. I shouldn’t take full credit for some of these: Nathan Barry (Nathan Barry here at Medium), Justin Jackson (Justin Jackson), Pat Flynn (Pat Flynn) and Paul Jarvis (Paul Jarvis), through their books and podcasts, inspired me hugely. I don’t think I’d ever start writing a book if it wasn’t for these guys.
Let’s get going!
Uno: It’s not the tools, stupid!
You may be thinking about how you are supposed to create the final layout of the book but let me remind you of something: you still haven’t written a word. All of that comes later. For now, pick something that works for you and use that. Some people suggest those “distraction-free editor” thingamajigers and that may work for them. However, I believe that being distracted or not is up to you and that it shouldn’t be pseudo-imposed on you by a piece of software. Other people suggest Notepad or, I don’t know, nano. A lot of writers swear by Scrivener. Doesn’t matter.
I actually use Medium itself to write my book: the entire book is a draft in Medium and I keep adding to it.
Dos: How long do you want your book to be?
By definition, if you want to measure your progress, you’re going to need something to measure it by. Do not just start writing with no plan of approximate word count. Set a number of words and stick to it.
When I started writing the book, I decided that it would have a length of about 25.000 words.
This is very important: when you are just starting out, 25.000 words can seem like a lot. When you are nearing the end, however, they will start looking like a restriction that you may want to break. Resist the temptation. Write want you want to write, edit some things out but stick to the plan. Otherwise, you run into the risk of never releasing anything.
There are always second editions for you to add more stuff! If you’re using Leanpub, you can keep updating the book for as long as you want and keep sending updates to your readers. Even if you’re not, your readers are just an e-mail away: send them a link to your updated content!
Tres: When you get writer’s block, lower the standards and keep going
I don’t remember where I read this: it was probably Nathan Barry’s book “Authority” but this is fantastic advice. Do not get too down when your writing is, well, crappy (or seems that way). I get it all the time: one day my dick jokes are amazing and the next day they are limp and lifeless (bonus piece of advice: double entendres are a must*).
Just keep writing and you can edit all the (possible) crap out at the end. It doesn’t matter if your content doesn’t look so good now: maybe you’re just having a bad day and your good content seems bad. Do not delete it. Keep writing, keep it and take a fresh look at it when you’ve finished the first draft of the book. You may be surprised at the quality.
Las cuatro: Write 500–1000 words a day
Another piece of advice from the masters I have mentioned above: writing 500 words a day is a piece of cake. You know how many days it will take you to reach those 25.000 words you set as a target? 50 days.
That’s right. Just be consistent with the promise you made to yourself. You don’t have the time, you say? Wake up thirty minutes earlier than you normally do, you lazy fuck.
Cinco: Don’t be too comfortable
This is my own piece of advice, which I live by. The clichéd image of the successful writer, sipping cognac next to the fireplace while typing furiously on a typewriter, is just that: a cliché.
I like to keep myself on my toes: I make sure that the room temperature is a bit lower than I would ideally prefer it to be, the chair or sofa is uncomfortable in small but noticeable ways and that I am always on the throes of blasting the porcelain throne out of orbit with the help of my special cup of Hypermocha!
This may not work for you, but being a bit uncomfortable always makes me write like a madman.
Bonus Recipe: Hypermocha!
Two shots of espresso
Two teaspoons of cocoa (Green & Black’s cocoa is the best I’ve ever tried)
Half a teaspoon of sugar
Some cold milk
Mix them together. Make sure a bathroom is close.