This post is a part of my behind-the-scenes series on a book I am writing called Dabblers vs. Doers.
I had started and stopped writing a book three times in the past five years. The first couple of times, I got bogged down in all the ideas, which became completely unmanageable.I would write down idea after idea, and over time, justified my lack of progress by telling myself that my energy should go to building my business, which is the sole way that I provide for my family.
The third time I attempted to write a book, I tried to address this challenge by partnering with my friend Christina Rosalie. We would co-author a book together. Working with someone was a fun process, I was learning so much from her, and it felt as though momentum was created socially, rather than via a bunch of files on my computer. And let’s face it: pooling our resources meant I only had to write half a book, and the potential for success was greater since two of us would be marketing it.
However, Christina and I soon began facing the normal challenges of partnerships. In our case, it was that she was going through a big transition in her life, moving her family from one coast to another, with both Christina and her husband starting new jobs in the process. This required a break in our work as every ounce of her time and energy reached maximum capacity with life and work. Once she settled, months had passed, and it just seemed to make more sense to move on than try to pick up an abandoned project.
I began 2014 with the goal to write more, but had zero intention of writing a book.
Then Jennie Nash called. She is a book coach, and at the time she reached out to me, was also the features editor for a literary journal called Compose Journal. She asked me to write an article for them.
This thing about Jennie Nash is this: she is very convincing. She talked me into writing the article, even though it sounded big and scary. However, I figured writing the article would move me toward my goal of writing more.
The article she commissioned pushed me to be more honest about my personal and professional life than I ever had been publicly. In truth, Jennie had to wrestle this essay out of me. She pushed me to talk openly about topics I was afraid to, and she pushed me to become a better writer.
The result was my essay, On Risk and Writing, for Compose Journal.
In the process of writing, Jennie and I became friends. We had lovely, long conversations, and we also discussed other ways to partner professionally. But she kept doing something: pushing me to consider continuing the threads I outlined in the essay, and to do so by writing a book.
Did I mention Jennie can be very convincing?
After some discussion, we realized we could help each other out on different projects, as a sort of trade. She would assist me in framing the concept of the book, and I would help her with some business strategy, and beta test her online course Author Accelerator.
The steps she had me take were the total opposite of what I had previously tried — and total genius. She has a process she uses as a part of a couple of courses (Author Accelerator, mentioned above, and an another called Book Startup), as well as with her private consulting clients.
She had me start by first coming up with the title for the book. That seemed backwards to me – how can I come up with a title for a book I haven’t even outlined yet?!
But it worked. I proposed titles again and again, and eventually landed on Dabblers vs. Doers. There are various subtitles I have been working through, but I haven’t decided on one yet.
Then, she had me create a table of contents. Again, this seemed like a crazy next step, because there was no content for any of the chapters. But this too worked really well. I came up with a system for creating the chapter titles, and she loved it immediately. It was amazing how easy that was.
Then, she had me do a third seemingly bizarre thing: write the back cover book description. She was clear about visualizing the finished book and how this would appear on it.
That was difficult, and we worked through it together, landing on a short description that seemed like a goal to set my sights for. And that was the point of each of these steps: to focus and clearly outline the goal of writing the book.
I came up with the next step in the process myself, and this is where things went off the rails. Jennie had asked me to begin writing, but I misheard her. I thought she asked for 10,000 words by the end of the week. It turns out she had only asked for something like 1,000 words.
Since I was so impressed with how well her previous requests worked, I began writing at least 1,000 words per day, moving towards my 10,000 words in 7 days goal.
When I sent her my homework for that week — 10,000 words — she freaked, albeit in the nicest way possible. It was as if you asked your spouse to pick up a dozen bagels, but instead they came home with a dump truck full of bagels and dumped them all over the front lawn.
Up to this point, her assistance had been a fun little aside for her — a generous gift to me. 10,000 words broke that system. We talked and I realized that I misheard her original homework assignment for the week, she had not asked for that many words. We corrected course, but in that week, something happened:
I established the habit of 1,000 words a day; It felt good, and I didn’t want to slow the momentum.
So I spent the next 50 days or so writing 1,000 words per day. Jennie sheepishly allowed this to happen, telling me that with all the writers she has worked with, “This never happens.” Evidently, people don’t just volunteer to write 1,000 words a day.
Somewhere along the way, I asked her when I should stop, and she told that 60,000 words was a reasonable end point. I began writing on September 6, 2014, and stopped on October 25.
60,000 words written felt like an unbelievable accomplishment, but I soon realized how much more work was involved in shaping them into a book. To edit them, expand upon them, focus them, and then move through the publishing process and truly connect my work to readers.
Which is where we are today. You can join me in that process via these behind the scenes blog posts, and my podcast — updates posted every week here.
What did the birth of your most recent creative project look like?