Recent Writing, Part 3: The What

Last week I published my second book, The Viva: Who? What? How? and as part of the process of publishing I want to spend a little time this week thinking over what that has been like. In my day job, we frequently extol the virtues of “Plan -> Do -> Reflect -> Review” – the cycle for experiential learning. And I also really like that call to arms that has done the rounds a fair bit in recent years, “start with Why”. On Wednesday I explored the Why of writing a book, yesterday I looked at How and today I explore What – which in this case means reflecting and reviewing to see what I’ve got from writing a book this time around and what this means for my future writing.

The What

First of all, the outputs from this project. I wrote a book which clocks in at just under 20,000 words, has twenty-seven chapters plus introduction and afterword, and which is now available from two different places, Amazon and Payhip. In the former space it has already entered the top ten for one of the charts it is registered for, and in the latter I’ve seen great engagement from people who want an alternative to the Kindle. There are no reviews for the book (yet!) but I’m optimistic given the few email responses I’ve had so far.

What Worked Out Well

The process that lead me to write the book was good for me: writing regularly and exploring ideas until something came along that just needed to be done. I think that I also was able to maintain focus over what felt like a long period of time – it took about six months between announcing the book and publishing. As I said in the last few posts, I had written some earlier pieces that I incorporated into The Viva: Who? What? How? but I rewrote those considerably.

It took about two months to get to a first draft, then another four months to get to publish. I think this could be improved on, but while I was eager to get the book finished and published I think that the time did allow me to be considerate of the book than my eagerness might have allowed.

The digital services that I’ve used to help produce the book have all been great. First of all, Pressbooks is a tool that just works for me. I know that Scrivener is a favourite writing tool for some, and perhaps Pressbooks would not be the best for, say, writing a thesis, but if you’re producing a book – and in particular an ebook – then it is a winner. Being able to write and organise things into chapters in the way that you do, organising front and back matter into separate places: it’s just good. And not worrying about the appearance/style until afterwards was a big help. I know in some cases this may be the first thing that you do, but for ebooks I think it is less important – get the words done first, then tweak how it looks afterwards.

(I’ll see how it handles images soon, I have a feeling that there will be some illustrations in my next book!)

If you are creating an ebook, and you don’t know where to begin, then GoOnWrite is a good place to start. I created the cover for Fail Your Viva and while I love it because I made it, I also know that it looks a little cheesy, a little amateurish. I wanted The Viva: Who? What? How? to look great, and GoOnWrite really helped make that happen. Payhip also helped a lot, because it meant that I could give some serious thought into making the book available more widely, and also offering it with my first book as a bundle. I couldn’t do that easily on Amazon.

None of these services are hard to use or pick up – my main learning point from them is that they are wonderful platforms for getting a book done. The only difficult part of writing a book is writing the book… (well, not quite, see below)

What I Would Do Differently

For my next book I will start directly engaging with people much sooner about the book. I think that not having a title until quite late in the development wasn’t a great thing either. A title means that people can file the information away and think about it. I just had “Viva Book 2”. I think I would be more savvy about releasing the book too – perhaps not releasing it the same week as a general election, for starters!

I tend to write quite quickly when I am motivated to do so, which means that I can get to a completed draft of something fairly quickly (when working from an outline), but does mean that I have to edit more. I don’t think I would change this completely, but I wonder about filling in the outline a bit more first… Adding a little more flesh to the skeleton. Perhaps an extra stage in the idea development cycle between index cards and Pressbooks.

Pressbooks has an option to allow people to view the book while it develops, invite feedback and so on. I may do this with my next book. I’ve never written that way before, out in the open. I don’t know what I would worry about more: that people might hate it or that people might not show up to read it.

Perhaps, in my writing process, I would review what I had written more regularly. For The Viva: Who? What? How? I spent time on my outlines, then wrote the chapters (mostly sequentially, with some jumping around to edit and add to chapters that were based on previous work) and only stopped to review things when I had finished my first draft. It was only at this point that I realised that two chapters just didn’t work, and that while I knew that one chapter – the chapter about my own viva – was a little long, I didn’t appreciate that it was really long, and need to have about 1000 words cut out. More frequent reviews, perhaps printing out and annotating a week’s output might be useful? We’ll see.

What I’ve Learned

In some cases I’ve learned and in some cases I’ve remembered that:

  • I can finish big projects: it’s easy to forget sometimes.
  • I can manage a lot of different aspects of a project: not multi-tasking, but zooming in and out on different pieces.
  • I can produce a 20,000ish word book in six months: but I hope that the next one is finished and published in a shorter time frame!
  • Despite the last point, it can take time to produce creative work: it’s not perfect but I feel that it is good enough.
  • I get excited by thinking that people might find something I’ve written useful: I had the opportunity to stealth-launch my book at a GRADschool, and being able to see people as I talked about it, rather than only see retweets or favourites on Twitter was great. I got instant visual feedback, expressions of interest, of curiosity and then immediate follow-up conversations.
  • Last point: I need to think very carefully about how to launch the next book. Even if it is primarily an ebook, there could be a great value in having a physical, real-world launch party.

If nothing else, it could be a great way to celebrate finishing another project 🙂

Thanks for reading, I hope that this little series of posts on the Why, the How and the What of writing my latest book has been useful. If you have any questions or comments then do let me know, I’ll try to respond as quickly as possible. New posts on other things from next week!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

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