Lessons learned — how to make writing a book easier than you think

The reception Maryam and I have had in response to Lean Experimentation in Action has been overwhelming. The most common thing we hear is something along the lines of: “Wow, you wrote a book! That is such an impressive feat.” And I get it, it DOES sound impressive. #humblebrag. But I used to say the very same things to authors I met. Like three months ago. I was in awe at their confidence. Their tenacity. Their sheer willpower to finish something like a book. 

I won’t lie. It’s not easy, and it does take a lot of effort, patience, and stick-to-it-iveness as we say where I’m from. But I was also amazed at how un-hard it has to be if the conditions are right. So here, upon request, is a short list of lessons learned from writing a bite-sized book in under 3 months.

  1. Get a partner.
    Seriously. As a serial procrastinator, I’ve started so many things in the past. For example, I fancied myself watercolor-painting my way through London these last 6 months. 2 sheets of watercolor paper later, I’m not convinced it stuck. But there’s a reason our company is a big fan of pair programming. When you’re accountable to someone else, when you have the same goal and can keep each other honest, it’s a powerful thing. Maryam has been a fantastic partner for this book. When I wanted to set the project aside or push back an internal deadline, I thought about her and pressed on. When I rat-holed on an insignificant area for too long or debated what was the perfect way to address a concept, she called me out on it and encouraged us to call it good enough for now and move on. And I did the same for her. If you’ve been stuck in the past and have gone it alone, we recommend you get thee a work spouse and go forth and conquer!
  2. Get feedback early and often.
    Lean Experimentation in Action started as a Google doc that we shared with friends and colleagues so they could add comments and offer feedback. Not only did that improve the quality of our thinking and writing, but knowing others were reading it meant we put a little extra pressure on ourselves to keep going… and 10 heads are better than two.And though it could use some user experience tweaks (it’s a lean platform, after all), Leanpub has been amazing. It lets you update your book anytime you like, and will automatically notify your readers of any updates. They have a feature where you can say what percent complete your book is to give readers a heads up about its current state, and they can send feedback directly to you. It even has a way to compose your book from its site so there’s no need to upload anything (we didn’t take advantage of this capability but I hear it’s easy).
  3. Start with something other than a blank page.
    In our case, we had run workshops on this topic in the past so already had a deck of slides as an outline. We copied and pasted that text into a Google Doc, and filled in a paragraph or chapter for each section. The content grew over time, but it never seemed like a daunting task, because we didn’t have a blank page starting accusingly at us from the screen. We hypothesize that a bulleted list on the back of a napkin or a transcribed voice memo of the gist you want to get across could similarly fit the bill as ways to start from something as opposed to nothing.
  4. Make consistent, small steps.
    Most of Lean Experimentation in Action was written in the tiny moments between our projects, in coffeeshops before work started and in the quiet moments after others had left the office. And I’m not trying to make us out as martyrs; it was actually fun. Granted, neither of us has kids at this point. We don’t have huge responsibilities at home. We can afford to come in 1/2 an hour early and leave 1/2 an hour late. For now I’m incredibly grateful for that. But it seems to me that it wasn’t the amount of time per day we put in that led up to actually publishing the book; it was the consistency. It could have been 15 minutes a day, and as long as we had an outline to work from to make context switching easier (see lesson #3), it would have helped keep the energy up.
  5. Keep it lighthearted and fun.
    One week when when Maryam was full time on a project and I was bearing the brunt of the writing, I started putting a lot of pressure on myself to finish by our agreed-upon launch date. I stressed myself out and felt like our to-do list was a mile long and like I had to go it alone and like this was a second or third job instead of a fun project. Maryam noticed my change of attitude and told me flat out [I’m paraphrasing]: “This is supposed to be fun, Kylie. I forbid you to do anything more than what is fun for you…. Our deadlines can wait; they were just something to keep us moving forward. Please tell me you’ll slow down and enjoy the ride!” See lesson #1 above. From then on I loosened up and enjoyed the experience. And our written words kept flowing. Thank you for the reminder, Maryam!

What other tips do folks have for finishing longer-term projects like books? Let’s grab a coffee and swap stories.

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