I was reading Buck Woody’s great How I Prepare for Presentations blog post and it reminded me of a question that I often get from people. Whenever I release a book, article, Pluralsight training class or do a presentation, I’m asked “how do you write so much?” Maybe the underlying question is really “Why do you hate your family?” or “Have you ever seen the sun on a Saturday?” Regardless, this is my technique for keeping up a busy writing schedule.
Build a Simple Schedule
Buck talks about a “slide a day” leading up to a presentation. While I don’t slot my time exactly like that, I do arrange my time so that I have dedicated time to write. Even at work, I block off my calendar to “do work” vs. just leveraging any free time that pops up.
For each of the three books that I’ve written or contributed to, I follow a three week cycle. First week, I research the topic. Second week, I build all the demonstrations that the chapter will include. In the final week, I write and proof-read the chapter.
For Pluralsight training, I keep a similar rhythm. Research for a week or so, build out all my demonstrations, write all the slides. I often put my plan into an Excel workbook for all the chapters/modules that I’m writing so that I stay on schedule. If I didn’t have a schedule, I’d drift aimlessly or lose perspective of how much I’ve finished and how much work remains.
Figure Out the Main Point
This is also mentioned in Buck’s post. Notice that I put this AFTER the schedule creation. Regardless of the intent of the chapter/blog post/training module/presentation, you still have a generic block of work to do and need a plan. But, to refine the plan and figure out WHAT you are going to work on, you need to identify what the purpose of your work is.
For a presentation, the “focus” is answering the “what do I want attendees to walk away with?” For a blog post, the “focus” answers the “why am I writing this?” question. For a training module, the “focus” covers “what are the primary topics I’m going to cover?”
Decompose Work into Sections
I’ve heard that saying that architects don’t see a big problem, they see a lot of small problems. Decomposing my work into manageable chunks is the secret to my work. I never stare at a blank page and start typing a chapter/post/module. I first write all the H1 headings, then the H2 headings, and then the H3 headings. For a book chapter, this is the main points, sub topics to that point, and if necessary, one further level down.
Now, all I do is fill in the sections. For the last book, I have H1 headers like “Communication from BizTalk Server to Salesforce.com” and then H2 headings like “Configuring the Foundational BizTalk Components” and “Customizing Salesforce.com data entities.” Once that is done, I’m left with relatively small chunks of work to do in each sitting. I just find this strategy much less imposing and it doesn’t feel like “I have to write a book” but more like “I have to write a couple pages.”
It’s not rocket science. I don’t have any secret besides rampant decomposition of my work. The only thing I didn’t put here is that I would have zero ability to write if I didn’t have passion for what I do. There’s no way I’d carve out the time and do the work if I didn’t find it fun. So if you are thinking of writing a book (which I encourage people to do, just for the experience), pick something that you WANT to do. Otherwise, all the focus, planning and decomposition in the world won’t help when you’re 4 months in and hitting the wall!
Any other tips people have for tackling large writing projects?
I must say I am impressed by the discipline you have for writing. For me it is totally different as I am a little chaotic, start ad hoc and do a lot thinking and research before I start. Sometimes I start a bit late. Ergo I still have to find my rythm.