The Tortoise and The Hare on Writing a Book

There are two ways to write a book — at least, two effective ways. I’ve written nearly five books with one method; I’ve wanted to write a book with the other. Which kind of writer, books or otherwise, are you?

The Tortoise

This is the ideal writer. He or she writes every single day. You don’t have to churn out a lot of material, you have to churn out material consistently. Write 600 words every day — that’s about 1 word processing page — and at the end of six months, 180 days, you’ll have a book.*

(* Nerdy tech specs: This is based on the ratio of 1 word processing page equalling 1.5 trade paperback pages, like Branding Yourself or No Bullshit Social Media. This will be slightly different/more for regular paperbacks, and I couldn’t even tell you what it equals for the big computer Dummies-style books.)

Of course, most biz-tech book publishers are slave driversinsistent about their schedule, and they give you four months to get your book done. So you’d actually need to jump up your output to 2 pages per day, giving yourself weekends off.

Still, if you can write 1 page per 60 – 90 minutes — again, slow and steady — you’ll be doing okay. You just can’t slack off or skip a day, because you’ll need to double-up on the next day.

The Hare

This is how I write books. It’s how I studied in college. It’s how I face a lot of projects that I have to do. (Unless you’re a client. Then I work on your stuff all the time, and think about it, and you, constantly.)

The Hare waits until a day or two before the deadline, and races through all the pages needed to meet the deadline.

When Kyle Lacy and I wrote Branding Yourself, I could generally do 1 chapter, about 10 – 12 pages, in 4 hours. Of course, that meant a lot of late nights, fast typing, and serious editing before it was finished. I got smarter when I wrote No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls: I took 4 days to write a single chapter, not because it was harder, but because I didn’t want to give myself such short deadlines and long hours.

You Need to be a Tortoise

I cannot stridently stress enough how important it is that you write like a tortoise, not a hare. I like to call the hare’s approach cram writing.

Cram writing is not for the novice writer, or even the person who has been writing for a couple years. Cram writing should only be done by someone who has been writing for a long, long time, and even then, you’d better be prepared for extensive editing and rewriting. There’s no one-and-done in cram writing. Anytime I’ve done it, I’ve had to edit everything twice before turning it in, and even then, my editors still had comments and questions.

Compare that to famed humor novelist, Christopher Moore, who is lucky if he finishes 2 pages in a single day’s writing. That’s 1200 words in about 5 – 6 hours, and it’s his job. He’s a trained professional with more than a few best-selling books to his name, and he can barely finish 2 pages in one day.

On the other hand, he rarely, if ever, has to edit his work.

Think of it. No rewrites, no edits, no typos, no mistakes, no snarky comments from editors. Nothing. Write it once, wait for the galley proofs, and you’re golden.

I try to avoid cram writing whenever possible, and I do recognize the difference in my writing when I give myself a few days to meet a deadline, rather than racing to beat it. I’ve managed to give myself extra time for the last couple of efforts, and have appreciated the difference.

If you’re thinking about writing a book, or an extra-long piece for publication, unless you are a seriously-trained professional who knows his or her limits and capabilities, I do not recommend you try cram writing.

Plan out your schedule, work at a comfortable rate, and pace yourself to be productive over the long haul. If you have to rush to get everything done, look at your time management and see if you can figure out where you’re falling down.

Random Thoughts on Writing a Book

I’ve finished my second book, Branding Yourself, with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, and am working on a third book on networking with Jeremy Dearringer, CEO of Slingshot SEO, an SEO company here in Indianapolis. I also have a couple other writing projects in the works, although those are still under wraps. I hope to have some news about those by Springtime.

But I’ve learned a few things about becoming a book author, things that I thought were easy, and things that I learned are hard.

  • Copies of the book Branding Yourself by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy

    In all my years, this is the 5th most beautiful sight I have ever seen.

    Writing a book isn’t really that hard, if you write on a regular basis. I used to think the advice “write every day” was stupid. “Who has time for that?” I thought. “I have work to do.” Turns out the work I was doing was writing anyway, and when I decided to write intentionally — to focus on new aspects of writing and become better at them — my writing improved.

  • Have a good editor. I learned a long time ago that while I’m a stickler about grammar and punctuation, I make a crapload of mistakes. Even though I catch them on second and third edits, I still usually find one or two that has to be fixed. Pearson just sent Kyle and me the “gathers” of the book. Individual chapters that we need to read over and mark any errors before the second printing. Believe it or not, with two writers and four editors, I found a couple errors. (What’s worse, they were mine!)
  • The hard part isn’t writing the book, it’s marketing it. In order to support the book, and sell copies, I’m starting to travel more to promote it during talks. Next week, I’ll be in Northern Indiana one night and Lexington, Kentucky the next day. I’m trying to do some paid speaking gigs, but am thinking about adopting Scott Stratten’s idea when he was promoting UnMarketing (affiliate link). Scott made an offer to any group: buy 100 of my books, and I’ll travel out to you. I’m thinking about doing that for anyone who buys 50 of my books, as long as you’re within driving distance. But compare that to writing. I could write at home, spend three hours, and knock out about 6,000 words, or almost an entire chapter. It’ll take me that long to drive to most of my speaking gigs.
  • Know your subject matter. Writing teachers love to say “write what you know” (which presents a problem for science fiction or fantasy writers). But this makes life so much easier when you’re writing a book. I remember struggling with a couple of chapters on Twitter Marketing for Dummies because I didn’t use some of the tools we were writing about. I had to spend a lot of time using them before I could write about them, which threw a huge monkey wrench into my writing schedule.
  • Have a writing schedule, and stick with it. John Grisham’s writing schedule, when he first started out, was to write from 7 am to 8 am, before he opened his law office. Christopher Moore’s schedule involves a lot of screwing around all day before he settles down after lunch and writes for 4 or 5 hours. Mine is to write at night, after the kids are in bed, and go for about 4 hours. Ignore the people who tell you to wake up early because mornings are more productive, or the people who tell you to stay up late because no one is awake then. Do what’s best for your body and your schedule. If you’re a night owl, stay up late. If you’re an early bird, get up and get that worm. But create a schedule and stick to it.
  • Shut off distractions. I love my Twitter network, and love chatting. But they are also the biggest interruption of my day, because they’re always more interesting than whatever I’m doing (even as I’ve written this post, I’ve sent 4 tweets). So when I’m writing, and have the willpower to do so, I shut off TweetDeck, close my Gmail, turn off the notifiers, and get to work. I can save myself 30 minutes of writing when I do that. My wife once asked me why I didn’t do that more, and I told her to “rephrase your question in the form of a tweet.”

Writing styles and processes are different for everyone. What are yours? Do you do anything special to get your writing done, to be more efficient and effective, or even to avoid distractions? Leave a comment and let me know.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

I Just Received My Copies of the Branding Yourself Book

Two hours ago, I opened up something I thought I would never see: a carton of books with my name on it.

And not just because I bought them.

Copies of the book Branding Yourself by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy

In all my years, this is the 5th most beautiful sight I have ever seen.

Because I wrote it.

My good friend, Kyle Lacy, and I just co-authored Branding Yourself: Using Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, and Que BizTech (Pearson Education) published it. The book will officially be released on Thursday, December 30, 2010, and will be in the major bookstores, as well as on Amazon.com.

As much of a wimp as this will make me sound, I got more than a little choked up looking at something I never imagined as possible until last year (it also didn’t help that Mumford and Sons’ “Little Lion Man” was playing on the radio at that moment either).

Last year, Kyle and I wrote Twitter Marketing for Dummies. We had such a good time that we decided to do it again.

That’s where Branding Yourself came from.

This project has lead to several other projects and other opportunities. And now that it’s been released, I can only hope it leads to bigger and better things (it already has: 2011 is already filling up with some awesome new projects that I’ll be sharing in Q1 and Q2 2011).

If you would like to come to the launch party, we’ll be holding it on Tuesday, January 25 at Scotty’s Brewhouse Downtown (1 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204). You can register for the book launch party at the Eventbrite page.

There are so many people to thank for this — some people whose influence stretches back as far as five years ago — that I don’t even know where to begin. The most notable ones who deserve special recognition are:

  • Paul Lorinczi: My business partner in Professional Blog Service. He makes sure I get my work done here so I can focus on outside projects like this.
  • Lorraine Ball: She was my networking mentor and Kyle’s first employer. She taught me how to network and showed me how to claim my niche and grow it better than anyone else. Her lessons on building a niche lead to this book. (She even gets a couple mentions.)
  • Katherine Bull: Our editor at Pearson/Que BizTech. She’s just awesome, and has become a real friend. Plus, she can spot some real talent and nurture them along. Anyone who has the chance to work with her needs to leap at it.
  • Brandon Prebynski and Leslie O’Neill: Our Tech Editor and Development Editor. I don’t know how many times I got irritated with them at 2:00 in the morning as I was going over their edits, and wrote snarky, smart-ass comments in response to their questions, only to realize the next morning that they were right and I was an idiot. They made this book so much better.
  • Kyle Lacy: To be honest, I learned more from him in the last three years than I realize, and I owe him more for this success than I could ever say.

This has been such a great event in my life, I still can’t believe it’s real. I have to keep looking over at the box of books to make sure they’re really there. I’m looking forward to 2011, and what that’s going to bring. If it’s even half as great as 2010, it’s going to be freaking awesome!

Promote Your Book with Video and Social Media Marketing

I was talking to another writer this past weekend, and he told me he was writing a book with a very famous NASCAR driver, but that they had only just started.

“It’s really just him telling a bunch of stories,” said the writer. “And man, can he tell stories.”

A book like this is perfect for video promotion and social media marketing, before it’s even published. In many cases, a book is available for pre-ordering, especially on Amazon. Here’s one idea you can use to promote the book using your subject and his great stories:

    Set up a blog with the domain name of the driver and book, like “www.RickyBobbyBook.com.”

  1. Get a Flip video camera and record all of your interview sessions.
  2. Edit the different stories into separate video clips.
  3. Post the stories, one per week, on the blog. Include the call to action, “You can read more stories like this in the upcoming book. Pre-order it on Amazon.com now” with a link to the order page.