Writing a book is a daunting task. The thought of stringing together 200-300+ pages can be a little bit nauseating. It’s like saying, “I’m going to run a marathon,” or, “I’m finally going to clean out the storage unit.”
One way to tackle this large of a project is by using the “sneak attack” method. I didn’t even know I was using this approach for my new book (Here or There) until four years went by and I quietly had enough chapters for a book.
Here’s what it looked like:
I tried to write one post a week. Every Monday morning, a new Medium Rare. I wasn’t thinking about writing a book at all, just the next seemingly unrelated story.
After four years, I had around 200 blog posts to choose from. Most of the posts were 1,000 words long. And a 200-page book is around 50,000 – 60,000 words.
I’m not a big math guy, but I was amazed by how low the percentage could be from rough drafts to final copy. If I could just find 50,000 book-quality words out of 200,000, that was enough. Which means I only had to hit 25% of my shots. Imagine a basketball coach keeping you in the game shooting that low of a percentage. Or being satisfied with a Bears kicker who went 1-for-4 on extra points. Definitely takes away any pursuit of perfection pressure!
This fundamentally changed how I viewed blogging. Before Here or There, I would check the Google Analytics pretty regularly. How many visitors, views, likes, etc. And, if I’m being honest, I’ll still get caught up in those numbers from time to time. But when I saw this process play out of how only 25% of the words from four years made it through to the book, I started to view this blog more like a workshop. Or a comedy club. This is where you go to test material. Practice the writing process.
The result: Write a book without knowing you’re writing a book. It’s like building up to the hour-long Netflix special or going to the storage unit and saying, “I mean, at least I can untangle the Christmas lights.”
In theory, there shouldn’t be pressure for views/clicks/likes. Shouldn’t be pressure for your blog to go viral. I hate to describe it as a numbers game, but think of it this way, if you’re publishing every week, and you’re hitting only 25% of your shots, that means every month you have a new chapter for a book. Twelve chapters a year. You can quietly produce a book every 2-4 years. And that’s not at an absurd pace. Then if you’re hitting 50% of your shots, or have really good proofreaders and editors in your life, that pace could be even faster. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s a slow brew. Writing is more like distilling whiskey than microwaving a plate of pizza rolls.
But what’s the story about?
One thing that makes the book writing process difficult is we spend too much time upfront wondering, “Ok, but what is the story about?” “What are the themes?” “What am I trying to say here?”
But it takes time for those things to develop. In the moment, in those early creation stages, it’s not always clear what the story will become.
For example, here on Medium Rare, one week was a blog post about dealing with the butterflies before a big event, overcoming the fear of embarrassment. Another week was how to avoid playing on the work league softball team. Followed by, “Why I always cheered for Wile E. Coyote.”
In the moment, those posts feel like they’re all over the map. Just a bunch of random musings. But when I looked back later, I noticed the theme in all three about pursuing dreams and overcoming the fear of failure. Those ended up working well together in the same book, although I didn’t see the connection at the time.
Oddly enough, the last chapter I wrote for Here or There was Chapter 1. I’ve heard this happens a lot to authors. They have to find out what the entire story is about first before writing the opening chapter. It reminds me of a quote from Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to a graduating class at Stanford.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. The dots will somehow connect in your future… Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart. Even when it leads you off the well worn path. And that will make all the difference.”
Here or There is about the different seasons of life. About embracing the good and the bad, not trying to rush out of a Here to a There. It’s part comedy, part philosophy, and part cartoons (the cartoons end up being the best part of the book). It’s about a lot of things, but it wasn’t about anything in the beginning. Just wrote about what I was interested in or what I thought would make for a good blog post that particular week.
So I’m embracing this “sneak attack” or “writing-as-a-journey” concept both in my own writing as well as over on Long Overdue Books. On that site, writers can post one chapter at a time of a book they’re working on in the “Seeking Editor” or “Seeking Publisher” categories. That way you’re not alone in the process. If you get stuck in the middle, or maybe you don’t write for six months, you might get an email from someone who had been reading your story. “Hey, when’s the next chapter going up?” I want to create a community that encourages writers to keep going, reach the finish line; wherever and whenever that might be.
Give the sneak attack method a try. It doesn’t have to be a daunting quest because you’re not trying to write a book, you’re just trying to write the next story. After a few years, those stories have a way of coming together.
There’s nothing like writing a post about writing one blog post a week to then say, “Yeah, so this was my last post of 2019.” I’ll be back with a new post for Monday, January 6th. The new book “Here or There” is available for sale on Amazon both as a paperback and Kindle version. I also have a few copies of books I can send you directly, just email firstname.lastname@example.org A selection of chapters can be read here on Long Overdue Books. To new readers, thank you for stopping by the blog this week and, to the loyal subscribers, thank you for all your support in 2019. I can’t wait to share more stories with you in 2020! If you’d like to subscribe via email, just enter your email address in the box below. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!