Consumed: The Burden of Writing a Book

23 October 2009 · 7 comments

“You’re doing it again,” Kris told me last night.

“Doing what?” I asked.

“You haven’t posted a new entry at foldedspace in nearly two weeks,” she said. “You’re in danger of letting it get all musty again.”

Kris is right, of course (as she nearly always is). But she also knows the reason for my silence: The Book. The Book is consuming my life. I’ve always wondered why my friends and colleagues allowed their blogs to lapse as they were working on their books. Now I know. The Book is going to kill me.

I can reveal The Book’s title now, by the way. It’ll be Your Money: The Missing Manual, and it’s scheduled to be published next spring by O’Reilly. O’Reilly is best known for its wide range of well-respected computer books, including the “Missing Manual” series. They’re trying to expand a little, and have recently published Your Body: The Missing Manual, Your Brain: The Missing Manual, and Living Green: The Missing Manual. Mine will be another entry in this series.

But writing a book isn’t like writing a blog. When I sit down to write a blog post — like this one — I can just go with the flow. Sometimes I have a beginning and/or an end in mind, but often I just start telling my story. I trust that after years of doing this I can shape my piece into the form I want.

That’s not how it works with a book. A book is planned meticulously. And even when it’s planned, you have a tendency to go off course, which just makes writing it more difficult.

Also, a blog post is 250 words. Or 750. Or, in extreme cases, 1500 words. I don’t usually pay attention to the word count. I just say what I want to say and leave it at that. But a book has a specific length. I know going into this project that Your Money: The Missing Manual will have 250-300 pages (with a preference toward the high end). I also know that other books in this series have a about 300 words per page. That tells me that I’m going to write 75,000 to 90,000 words, which will be divided into chapters of 5,000 or 6,000 words. These chapters are much longer than a blog post, have to possess continuity, and have to be packed with information.

Some of the chapters require research. I had to spend days surveying the literature on money and happiness, for example. Other chapters will require images or figures, which are easy enough, but which are time-consuming. And if I want to quote extensively from another source, I need to get clearance. (Dave thinks I need to get clearance if I quote at all.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Writing a book is work. It’s taking all of my time. And the deadlines are killing me.

A typical schedule for a book is: Write for a year, give the publisher a year to put it on the market. That’s not how this one is working. This one is: Write for three months, give the publisher three months to get it on the market. In other words, I’m doing this in a quarter of the time it takes for most books.

I’m required to turn in one chapter every Monday. That’s a chapter a week. A normal book schedule would require about a chapter every month.

As a result, I live up here in this office, surrounded by my Diet Pepsi bottles and pork rind wrappers. My diet sucks. I have barely any free time. Gone are those recent days of walking and reading. Instead, I come up here, I write (and eat like crap), I go home to have dinner with Kris, we watch an episode of All Creatures Great and Small, and I go to bed.

The good news? This is a finite project. I can see the end of it — even if it’s still more than two months away. I now know that this is not how I want to live. I love to write, but on my own terms and my own schedule. Once the book project is over, I’m going to return to my beloved pastoral lifestyle…

1 Bao October 23, 2009 at 19:57

Long time reader of GRS here. Just want to say I enjoy your writing and can’t wait til the book is done. Stay strong! like you say there is an end in site.

BTW on some days, I enjoy this blog more than GRS…is that wrong? Haha

2 Mom October 24, 2009 at 18:26

The book sounds interesting and exciting. Don’t let your health fall to pieces while you write it, though. Take some vegetables and fruit to the office with you. (I’m not one who can talk — I rarely eat vegetables and fruit.) Good going, doing your chapter a week! I’m pulling for you!

3 Alan Cordle October 25, 2009 at 16:45

Congrats! I’m looking forward to your book signing at Powells!

4 Lauren October 26, 2009 at 15:59

I hope you feel ok soon. Best success on the Book :)
With care,

5 Karl Staib - Work Happy Now October 26, 2009 at 19:34

I know it will be a great book. It’s going to open a ton of speaking opportunities. You just have to eat better. It’s hard to be happy while writing when you don’t give your body the right ingredients. Instead of taking Pepsi and Pork Rinds to your layer. Try slowly transitioning to Green tea and raisins or Black tea and carrots or water and and apple with peanut butter.

I also like to play Bach or Mozart which makes me feel better. By giving your ears and stomach the right stuff, you’ll be much happier with better results.

6 Sue October 28, 2009 at 14:36

I’m in agreement with some of the other people who have commented here: Don’t let your nutrition (or your health in general) suffer while you’re writing your book. Those pepsi colas and pork rinds are probably working against you by making it harder for your brain to concentrate. Be kind to yourself and feed yourself good food–make sure you get lots of food with omega 3’s as they are great for both mood and concentration–lots of water, and a little exercise even if it’s only a 20 minute walk.

Good luck with the book–I’m looking forward to reading it.

7 Karawynn October 30, 2009 at 13:26

Three months? Aieee! No wonder you’re stressed and have no time. Mercy.

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