Back in July, I noted that I had accepted and was beginning the process of writing The WordPress Bible for Wiley Publishing. You can read that post here.
It’s now November and almost everything is in the bag for me. I’ve written the book with an average of 20-30 pages per chapter. I’ve gone through Author Review (A.R.), more commonly called “editing”. I’ve taken screenshots. Wrote code. Sifted through pages and pages that have so many changes, from three different editors, that the page appears to bleed. I’ve survived. Sometimes barely. I want to talk about the process of writing that book.
Writing a book is as much mental as it is emotional. Everyday, you evaluate what you have to get done, how much time you have to get it done, and consider the tone and voice in which it is written. I noted in my announcement that I would take on extra work to compensate for the lack of full-time pay the advance money would turn out to be. This became the most difficult part of the process, as it would turn out.
Early on, I spent a tremendous amount of time being very precise and intentional in how I wrote. It was a very slow process but I was pacing myself. I had 4 deadlines at 25% increments that were a month apart (except the last one). I could afford to be deliberate and intentional and pace myself. I had nine chapters to write in 30 days. Done. The first deadline was no problem, but it was a definite time investment.
The second deadline approached in late August. It was the 50% deadline and nine more chapters were due. By this time, I was heavily invested in the two client projects – a corporate redevelopment of Navstar, a federal IT service provider in Northern Virginia and TheCityFix, a WordPress MU/BuddyPress-based project for EMBARQ, a major non-profit in DC. Both of these projects were lagging behind as I went about being meticulous about my book. So when the 50% deadline came, I had my chapters but I was delayed on my clients.
Putting the book on the back-burner at the beginning of the 75% deadline, I spent time catching up on client work. As a week turned into two, and then three and I had not been able to start on the 75% deadline, I had mornings where I would have nervous and mental breakdowns in the shower. I had no idea how I could do it all. I was under intense pressure to do and I simply did not know if I could do it. I hid it well, but exactly one week before I had to have another nine chapters turned in, I began that process of writing those nine chapters. I told my clients I was unavailable. I locked myself away for 12-16 hour writing marathons. At 8pm on the day of my 75% deadline, I turned in my last chapter – a marathon effort that began 7 days before. I headed to the bar for a beer.
We got started on the process late, so although Wiley agreed to push back the 25%, 50% and 75% deadlines to compensate, the final deadline had to stay fixed at October 14. Two and a half weeks. I took a bit of time off to go back to client work because I knew I’d be going to Orlando to keynote IZEAFest, and had intentionally took advantage of the group rate that IZEA had negotiated to get a few extra days in sunny Florida. In theory, I could write the rest of the book by the pool and enjoy the sun. Good idea, but then the wifi was ridiculously poor and I lost six days in the two and a half weeks I had to finish things up.
I came back from Orlando looking at the same situation I had with my 75% deadline – 8 days to go, 9 chapters to write. Up until this point, I had made every deadline even if I was unofficially granted a few extra days here or there if I needed it. I never took those extensions. My editor was firm on the 100% deadline though. It must be done. (She ended up giving slightly in the end but I couldn’t take her up on that because I was leaving for Vegas and Blog World Expo on the day of my final deadline. There was no way to be in Vegas and take advantage of a few more days to write!)
Miraculously, as I flew at 37,000 feet on Virgin America en route to Blog World Expo, I was submitting my final chapter and screenshots. Thank God for wireless internet on flights! I made it. Done. Complete. Breathe.
When I got back from Vegas, however, my editor told me she needed me to rewrite a chapter (or significant portions of the chapter). Sighing heavily, I did just that addressing the areas of concern she had. Then the deluge of chapters began floating back to me for A.R. I had to sort through every single chapter, rewriting some portions, approving code changes from Mark Jaquith, my technical editor, wording and grammatical changes from my copy editor and other generalized suggestions and changes from my lead editor.
I was told that the edit process is grueling. That it is painful. That I better have thick skin. I went into A.R. expecting the worst. Fortunately, it was a fairly painless process. Perhaps after the marathon sprints and my inherent instinct to trust the people around me to make me look good, I rolled with the process. These people make me look good! While I accepted almost every suggestion from all three editors, there were times I vetoed. As the author, I have that prerogative to a point. Generally, however, I trust these people to help me through. It was not as bad as I expected.
Emotionally, I was numb. The book took a toll on me. In most ways, the toll is good. In other ways, perhaps not so much. I still will have to proofread the final product in December and will have a week to do so, but this process is all but over. However, I’m still numb. Does a man achieving what seemed so difficult to do give him an emotional outbreak, as we see when sports teams win the big championship, or does it make us look at life a little more soberly and say, “Wow… I did that. Crazy. Now what?” For me, I think it’s the latter.
From a business perspective, The Navstar project has been wrapped up for almost two months now. TheCityFix is all but wrapped up. When you’re writing, you don’t have time for business development. So now I’ve hit the reset button and rebuilding again. The buzz around the book has already generated enough leads that I don’t think I’ll be hurting for work.
From a book perspective, I can’t wait for this thing to come out. It is available on Amazon on February 15th and you can preorder it now. There will be a book launch in Baltimore and Washington, likely. I will undoubtedly be traveling to many WordCamps next year, including our own WordCamp Mid-Atlantic (which I co-organize). Next time I write a book, however, I will write it about something I want to write about and not something I’m qualified to write about. (kidding).
To aspiring writers, I say:
- Find your groove early. Don’t waste time on stylesheets (every publisher provides a style guide). That’s what the editor is for.
- Roadmap your book so it’s on paper. Most publishers will require a table of contents before you start. It’s for your good as well as theirs.
- Have thick skin during the editing process. Your editors don’t hate you even if their markup seems like they do. They have your best interest in mind.
- Have an agent! The agent is there to help navigate through the business process. Sure, they take 10-15% off the top, but they can often get you more money and more concessions. It’s sort of like don’t ever go to court without a lawyer.
- Write because you want to write. You’ll never make it rich on writing (unless you’re Thomas Friedman, and even then, you’re probably making money from speaking engagements because of your writing).
- Figure out the environment and mode you need to be in to effectively write.
- If you need to stop because you’re mentally exhausted, stop… because you’re mentally exhausted. It doesn’t help your writing to be doing so in a robotic, bleary eyed way.
- Most of all, have fun! Writing a book is a hard process, but so rewarding. If you treat it like work, it will be work. If you treat it as a way to channel your energies, you’ll have more fun doing it. :-)