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Writing - Lesson One - Method
30 January 2012
Granted, I'm not all the way through writing my book, but I thought I'd stop for a moment and talk about how one goes about writing a technical book. Have I picked up any tricks? Has it utterly ruined me yet?
I'm happy to report that not only have I learned a few things, I've also yet to be utterly destroyed by the act of putting words on the page. Huzzah!
Every beginning writer asks the same thing of every published writer: How do you write? I suppose that the novices are imaging some arcane ritual, or an intricate combination of yoga and parkour. Perhaps there's a perfect alignment of the stars, sun, and moon that allow the juices to flow. Is there a special brand of tea that must be imbibed?
Every published author responds the same way: write every day.
There's always a look of disappointment on the novice's face when they get this answer. It's not very sexy, is it? It doesn't build up the aura of the Published Author, or add to their mystique. It's like being told by your dentist that you need to floss every day, or by your doctor that you need to drink a whole mess of water. Ugh.
It's true, though. It's so depressingly true. I have written on a cruise ship, I've written while My Little Ponies are blaring, I've written at 5am and at 11pm. I've done it alert and dead tired. I've done it on lunch breaks, in cafes, in my PJ's, in my Thanksgiving best.
Every. Damn. Day.
I wanted to make an excuse not to write, and sometimes, I succeeded. I decided I needed to talk a few days off to research WAI-ARIA. Getting back into the swing of things was extremely hard. My word count floundered, even though I was now full of information. It was then that I realized the horrible truth.
I would have to write every day.
If I had to research, I'd have to research, AND write.
If I needed to edit, I'd need to edit, AND write.
If I was taking notes on something, the note talking could not be considered 'writing'. I needed to take notes, AND write IN THE BOOK.
That isn't to say I didn't find a few ways to cheat, of course.
Some days, it was hard to write. There were sections I just didn't want to do. Talking about contrast and all the equations around it was something I found horrifically boring (and making something dull interesting is a feat, let me tell you). Some days, I had so much on my mind that I could barely concentrate (try packing for a family of four for nine days where you won't have access to Target and writing awesome prose).
I learned to cheat.
The objective of cheating is not to screw yourself over later. If you count 'research' as writing, you're only being hard on yourself. What you want to do is cheat your brain by doing something easy that is still writing and won't kill your momentum.
When you're not having a bad day, you're probably going to have ideas while you're writing. Oh, you'll think, I could add something about this to that other section that seemed a little skimpy! Once I get done here, I'll go do that.
DO NOT DO THAT.
Write down the idea. You are right now in the bull market of creative flow. You need to save a little, for when you're having your bear day, so you'll have something to get by on.
I also learned to sprinkle my text with TODOs that can be filled with a minimum of effort. While I'm in the flow, I'd rather not run off to Google to find the name of that add-on that I want to reference. I toss in a TODO:extension name and move on. Then, when I'm having a really, really bad day, and all I can possibly do is run searches and fill in data, I've got something I can turn to.
Long story short: authors aren't joking when they tell you to write every day. Just freaking do it.
Related tags: writing