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Three Things I Know Are True: Writing Books


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I’ve been attempting to find “true north” in a lot of things lately. This new series explores what I believe in different areas of work and life. Your answers may differ; the point is to find what’s true for you.

Today’s topic is writing books. Here are three things I know are true.

1. The basic process is easier than most people think.

As I’ve explained before, it’s not that hard to write a book. A book is composed of a number of chapters and words. If you break down the process in a logical manner, you can see approximately how many words are required on a daily or weekly basis to achieve the goal in whatever time period you set.

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The Magic Button of Good Design


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At least once a week I receive questions about the design process behind the self-published work I’ve made, in particular the three manifestos I offered a few years ago.

"What software do you use?" people want to know. In other words, how do I “make them look good”?

I'm no designer, but as a writer I appreciate the value of imagery and structure that works in harmony with words. I also know that there’s no big secret to it, nor is there a shortcut.

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Immerse Yourself in What You Want to Become

38563077_a0e8fc4065_z In reading the transcript of Bob Dylan’s speech at MusiCares, I also liked this part on the origins of his songwriting:

“There's nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and unconsciously, because that's all enough, and that's all I sang. That was all that was dear to me. They were the only kinds of songs that made sense.

I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that's fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.

For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I'd heard it just once."

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Starting in the Middle

Amy wrote in and said she was struggling with writing her book. “I know I have something good to share with people!” she said. “But I’m having a hard time just getting started.” I’ve written about working through process a few times before—see how to make decisions, starting a business, and how to finish, for…

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The Essence of the Process Is Revision

I've said before that writing a book isn't difficult when you break it down into 1,000 words a day. In fact, if you write 1,000 words a day fairly consistently, you can write more than one book a year.

A few smart readers have pointed out that the writing is the easiest part. Truly crafting something worthwhile requires much more work in the editing or revision phase. It's one thing to get 50,000 words on the page, and it's another to turn them into something that other people want to read.

I still maintain that it's more important for most of us to focus on forward motion, on making choices that allow for consistent, daily effort. Most people remain stuck at the beginning, unable to envision a reality of themselves actually writing a book or creating another big project.

Nevertheless, the comments that revision is more difficult and more important are true. First you create, then you revise. The essence of the process is revision.

49,000 Words and Miles to Go

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Small Things Can Keep Us from Big Things

Lately I've felt that I'm doing well at the small things, but failing to plan for more involved work. It's not that the small things are inconsequential—or so I tell myself. If you also struggle with doing small things well but neglecting the bigger picture, it's time to take action. The only way to break the pattern is to force ourselves to look ahead and answer the question:

What, exactly, am I trying to build here?

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Around Here: Notes from Thursday Afternoon

Whenever things are going well, it's always good to ask yourself “How could I improve? What could I do better?” Never rest on your laurels! Always be thinking: OK, great. What's next? Yesterday I woke up early and went for a quick run around the park. Then I went for a morning biscuit at Pine State, where I visit a couple of times a week whenever I'm home in Portland. Then I came back and got ready, and then we sold 1,000 WDS 2013 tickets to fun people all over the world. I looked back at the screen and thought, wow, that was exciting. Then I went for sushi.

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It’s Not the Process, It’s Not the End Result, It’s the Act of Making Things

We all know there is a problem in focusing entirely on the end result. When you reach the end, what comes next? What if the end wasn't what you really wanted? That's why you have to love the milestones along the way, reminders that you appreciate what you're doing and that it's all for a good cause. But there's also a problem in focusing entirely on process. Working strictly on process takes you away from the big picture can lead you astray. Besides, it's OK to have goals, right?

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