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I’m no expert at writing books. I’ve been working on one for about 6 months, and focusing on it for the past month or so. But I’ve learned a few things, and I want to share them.
Learning to Write
It’s almost trite, but writing is re-writing. I mostly learned to write by writing a post, reading it, then fixing bad sentences. (I also get feedback from friends — thanks, guys!)
The point isn’t to fix that one post. The point is to slowly write good sentences, to practice your art. Over time, you’ll start writing more good sentences in your first draft, which lets you raise your bar for what constitutes “good.” (The same applies to paragraphs — sometimes, the problem is the overall organization, not the wording.)
I’ve known this for a while, and I always revise my blog posts, but I don’t really wrestle with them anymore. But I’m wrestling with this book, writing to a level that requires focused effort, major rewrites, and the kind of mental reaching that I used to make for blog posts, back when blog posts were hard to write. And I expect that, over the next few months, it’ll make me a better writer.
Bonus tip to spot bad sentences: I’ll wait a day, then read the chapter out loud. I notice places where my words lose rhythm, where I’m not sure what a sentence really means as I read it, where I have to read the entire sentence then go back and decode it. Those sentences need a cleanup.
(For example, the sentence, “Over time, you’ll start writing more good sentences in your first draft,” is not a good sentence. It’s imprecise and contains unnecessary words like “start.” It’s in the post because I don’t see an easy rewrite, but wrestling to bring it up to book quality would definitely make it easier to spot the rewrite next time, which is the very definition of being a better writer.)
Outline = Progress
Until recently, I had a rough outline of topics, but not the chapter-by-chapter outline I have now. I thought knowing the topics would be enough. It wasn’t.
Two problems with not having a chapter-by-chapter outline:
When I started writing about a topic, I had to figure out how to approach it. But to do that, you really want to know how you’re presenting the topics around it. Which you don’t, because you don’t have a detailed outline.
There’s no progress bar. But now that I have my outline posted, I can see links go up, and I want to fill that page with links, which makes me write more.
This outline, by the way, was the main new skill I learned in writing the book. I hadn’t done anything of this scale before, and it was hard to think through — there’s a reason I put it off. But now that it’s done, each chapter is basically one blog post, which I know how to do. So I’ve reduced the problem to one that’s already been solved.
(Incidentally, I would not recommend attempting a book until you find it easy to write a substantive blog post.)
Comments are Awesome
Whether it’s feedback from Ananael on a sentence that readers might take the wrong way or requests from Yvonne to clarify some topics, having reader feedback as I write will help me produce a better book.
I’ve heard that, to become a good writer, you have to care more about your book than you do about perceiving yourself as a good writer. So true. It can be unfun to hear about your writing’s shortcomings, but I’m glad for all the feedback.
Also, I love how the comments section lets us explore ideas that wouldn’t fit into the book, like Yvonne’s question about perception vs external reality. I’m going to put something in my book to encourage readers to join the discussion in the comments, and include a link to each chapter’s comments in the electronic versions.If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.