How (Not) To Write A Book

Hello everyone!  I hope this finds you well!

“Oh wait…this is an open mic comedy night now?”

There’s a joke I was told years ago that acts as a surprisingly apt metaphor for creating a book.

A man dies and when he wakes up he’s greeted by a demon who tells him that he’s died and gone to Hell.  On the plus side, there is one last choice that he’ll be able to make – namely which of the 3 rooms in Hell he’ll be in for all eternity.

The man is taken to the first room and peers into a vast number of people standing on their heads on a hard wood floor.  It looks very uncomfortable.

At room number two, there is an equal number of people standing on their heads but this time instead of hard wood, it’s a solid rock floor.  It seems substantially worse than the first room.

The final room is filled with even more people than the first two rooms combined.  In this room, everyone is knee deep in the most foul and putrid liquid imaginable, but they’re all drinking coffee.  It seems completely disgusting, but at least they’re drinking coffee and that might be the easiest of the three to deal with for eternity.  The man chooses this room.

As the demon locked the door behind him, a voice over the intercom barked out, ‘Coffee break’s over!  Back on your heads!”

As I write this I’m taking a coffee break from being knee deep in editing my Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns book and smiling at the parallels.

How Not To Write A Book Or A Blog

Anyone with any productivity training would tell you that my method of creating books  (getting inspired, doing all the necessary research, writing a draft and then tackling re-writes, editing, revisions and layout simultaneously) is insane.  And from the standpoint of someone thinking in terms of high output writing like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), they’d be right.

But for me, writing in a purely “efficient” manner doesn’t work that way.

I don’t plan out my blogs (beyond a topic and a point of view) because when I write spontaneously, I can help create the immediacy of conversational speech.  That’s the good side of working in that manner.

On the down side, writing that way means that I’m perpetually editing posts, cleaning them up and working endlessly to keep the energy level high while adding some artistry in how I’m conveying ideas.

In other words, I write quickly and edit as long as I’m able.  The editing may be where the actual craft comes in, but without that initial energy of getting the ideas on the page the clean up is useless.

This idea is expressed more succinctly in the familiar adage, “You can’t polish a turd.”

Modular Conventional Wisdom

I’ve written before about the differences between data and knowledge and on the importance of common sense,  as a means of negotiating the constant overwhelm of data. But what this process has taught me is that most conventional wisdom is really best applied in a modular and contextual manner rather than as an absolute.

It’s easy to grasp onto advice and, in an effort to shorten a learning curve, grasp it as gospel – but the real knowledge you gain in life comes from that learning curve.  I’ve learned much more from my mistakes than from my successes, and without those mistakes my successes never would have happened.

Tim Ferriss talks about four hour mastery.  That might get you to an avenue to manipulate your way through a martial art competition, but it’s going to get your ass handed to you in street fight.

There are shortcuts for work, but there are no shortcuts for understanding your own OS.  There are no shortcuts for finding out what works for you and finding out the best way for you to negotiate the world around you.

Put In The Work But Respect The Process

How I create my books is incredibly time consuming and almost infinitely frustrating in the number of times specifics have to be revisited because of how I re-work the material.  But it is only in that re-working that I can see the deeper connections.  It’s in that revision that the work adds clarity  to strength and it’s in going back and sweating minutiae that the work goes from, say, 95% to 98%, and from 98% to 98.4% or 99%.  The agony and the ecstasy both come from working towards those final percentages.

And Don’t Fixate on TIme

So, yes the 12-Tone book is late (Draft one was due Christmas Day!) but more importantly, it’s already the best book that I’ve written thus far and it’s only in the last month that all the substantial changes have happened.

Should I work on being more efficient?  Absolutely! But rushing the book out would have made it a much more inferior experience for the reader.  Instead of thinking about how much time I’m losing in yet (another) substantial revision, I’m focusing instead on what is coming from investing time in this way.

In writing a book, in playing guitar, in enjoying a walk on a brisk day, the magic is in the details.  In being fully engaged in the present.  Don’t be in a rush to gloss over them.

As always, thanks for reading.

-SC

p.s. – for a limited time (1/21/13 – 1/25/13) my shortest Kindle title, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call is free on Amazon.  You can find that book here and download it for free starting on the 21st.  (If you don’t have a Kindle the Kindle app is free on Amazon).  If you do happen to download it, please drop me a line and let me know what you think!  If you like it, please make sure to check out my other Kindle title, Selling It Versus Selling Out (Applying Lessons From The Business Of Music).

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